Column: Questions on New York State Exam Revise Israeli History
1947 Partition Plan, The Washington Institute

Column: Questions on New York State Exam Revise Israeli History

Some critics might label two questions on a statewide test as intellectual dishonesty in our fourth largest state that is home to America’s most sizeable Jewish population. Except that there was nothing intellectual about these questions.

The correct multiple-choice answer to one question assumes that the Holocaust “most directly influenced” Israel’s partition plan developed by the United Nations in 1947, and the second correct answer assumes that Zionists and Jewish immigrants benefited most from the geographic outcome of the 1948 war for independence which the Arabs initiated.

The standardized New York state test, which is a global history and geography state Regents exam, abruptly sparked accusations of distortions of Israel’s history from a group called Americans Against Antisemitism. Members of Congress from New York are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul and Education Commissioner Betty Rosa to investigate and hold those responsible to account.

Ultimately, this means that the governor and the education commissioner must hold the governor and the education commissioner to account.

Disgusting is perhaps the best way to describe this action, with former state Assemblyman Dov Hikind explaining to The New York Post: “The maps lack all context. Specifically that border changes were the result of successive wars started by Arab states to annihilate Israel. Second, the questions, at best, lend themselves to debate, not to singular answers from among false choices.”

Hikind, who leads Americans Against Antisemitism, was referring to three questionable maps linked to the two questions. The New York State Education Department assures of accuracy since these questions were “designed to test students’ knowledge of geography as it relates to historical events.”

The Education Department explains, “New York State social studies teachers prepared, selected and reviewed the excerpt and questions on the Global History Regents Exam prior to their inclusion. All exam questions are reviewed multiple times by NYS-certified teachers and State Education Department subject matter and testing specialists to ensure they are not biased, accurately measure the learning standards, and contain no errors.

The questions contain errors. Not only that, one wonders if the questions are biased.
Definitely, these two exam questions were not “reviewed…” enough…”multiple times by NYS-certified teachers…and testing specialists.”

Also in need of review are the qualifications of the teachers, the testing specialists and those people who hired and kept them in their jobs. Like the governor and the education secretary.

Inclusion of these questions reflects on poor judgment, incompetence and/or bias. Does the Education Department retain members of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas on its staff?

Is this what the state requires Brooklyn yeshivas to teach as part of providing a secular education? For readers who are not aware of it, the state is pressuring Orthodox-run schools to educate students on secular subjects. School officials at the yeshivas have been widely accused of ignoring a state-required secular education program for their schools.

As the Post and Jewish Insider reports, the test displays an image of the 1947 partition plan and Israel’s 1949 and 2017 borders, asking students “which historical event most directly influenced the development” of the partition plan. It offers these choices: Russian pogroms; the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Paris Peace Conference; and the Holocaust. The Holocaust, the exam says, is the correct answer.

Of course, that is at best a simplistic answer. It could imply that the Arabs were victimized by World War II because the world sympathized with survivors and paved the way for them to inhabit land belonging to the Palestinians.

The aftermath of the Holocaust might have made the creation of Israel inevitable, but a solid foundation was laid a half-century before as Jews who already lived in Israel and Jews who moved in during that period struggled to transform the land into a modern nation. They endured murderous raids from Arabs and conflicts with the British when they controlled the land from the end of World War I until Israel’s creation.

The second question asks “which group benefited the most from the changes.” The choices: Zionists and Jewish immigrants; the government of Jordan; Palestinian nationalists; and the citizens of Lebanon. All Jews benefited as we were able to reclaim our homeland. So did civilization in general, as most of the land was finally governed through the democratic process. Not only that, but Christians who revere Israel as the origin of Christianity can visit Israel without interference.

Hikind, along with Brooklyn Councilwoman Inna Vernikov and Americans Against Antisemitism, want Rosa, the state commissioner of education, “to swiftly remove the disingenuous questions and conduct a thorough audit to ensure such egregious distortions of history that invariably lead to animosity for the sole Jewish state aren’t being inadvertently fed to our children.”

Jewish Insider reports that U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York City Democrat, wrote to Board of Regents Chancellor Lester Young Jr.: “I worry that these poorly contextualized maps, which gives the impression of having been drawn by (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) propagandists, play into the character assassination of Israel as an aggressor with ever-expanding borders, the settler-colonialist caricature.

“Second, the exam reduces Israel (to) nothing more than a response to the Holocaust. The notion that the movement for Jewish self-determination has no raison d’etre outside the Holocaust is as offensive as it is ahistorical.”

Nine Republican U.S. representatives from New York sent a letter to the governor and the education commissioner claiming that the exam “blatantly promotes hateful anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric rhetoric which only fan the flames of antisemitism in our schools.”

Up to now, we thought that reports accusing Orthodox groups with abusing their yeshiva system and exploiting state financial support were shocking. Yet if the two exam questions are New York’s idea of secular education, who can blame the yeshiva management for being so defiant?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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