By Mor - This file was derived from:Is-wb-gs-gh v3.pngCia-is-map2.gif, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76626205

Column: Israel or Palestine? Pro-Arab Teachers and Professors Who Don’t Know Much About Geography…or Care

PHILADELPHIA – Maybe the geography teacher was introducing a new educational technique drawn from George Orwell’s futuristic novel “1984,” as in day is night and red is blue

The unidentified teacher at the Baldi Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia, a few miles south of my residence, switched the name of Israel to Palestine on a handout map of the Middle East distributed to these students. In commanding bureaucratic language, principal Bianca Gillis decried this “incident (as being) UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!!”

Before we realize it, Gillis will recklessly toss around such shocking words as “inappropriate” or “unsuitable.” Let us hope this situation does not escalate.

It is hard enough to abide high school and college students who bash Israel without bothering to learn all the twists and turns in its conflict with Hamas, but some public school teachers and college professors have injected themselves into disruptive protests. In fact, the teacher at Baldi takes after a public school teacher in Brooklyn. Faculty at Columbia University voted for a no confidence resolution against Columbia’s president partly for seeking a police response, and at the University of California-Los Angeles faculty members interfered with police attempting to remove an encampment.

At UC-San Diego, a coalition of Jewish student groups urged college administrators to “unequivocally condemn and take disciplinary action” against employees as well as students “who call for or commit acts of harassment, violence and genocide against Jewish students, the Jewish people and Israel.”

Their letter, published Tuesday by San Diego Jewish World, recounts that Jewish students have dropped courses “where professors touted biased and faculty-violating political beliefs” and were “unable to speak out in class because of fear of how it’ll impact our grades.”

The Jewish coalition adds, “This atmosphere of fear is exacerbated by the prejudicial actions of professors, teaching assistants and academic departments, along with the student government who have promoted revisionist and false history to promote an agenda that demonizes both the Jewish people and the state of Israel.”

Other examples of educators who participate in such incidents or hold anti-Israel views can be found in the media. We all have the right to freedom of speech, and Israel’s military response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of southern Israel raises disturbing questions. However, teachers as well as students are violating school policies, disrupting campus life and even breaking the law.

“These guys are trying to relive 1968,” Columbia astronomy professor James Applegate told a New York Times reporter, in reference to a violent clash with police during the Vietnam war “I don’t think they have any intention of having a sensible conversation with anybody.”

Through hard personal experience, I learned of professionals who pressed the so-called Palestinian cause by exploiting their power over employees. In 2002, a senior manager at Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, where I worked, posted illustrations on her bulletin board with accompanying phrasing that compared conditions in Israel’s territories with racism in the South during the Jim Crow era.

Along with other Jewish DHS employees, I filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying that this manager’s message insulted Jewish employees in the workplace and created a hostile environment. The EEOC determined that she did not violate my civil rights and city management warned her not to repeat this. No firing. Not even suspension or demotion. She got away with it.

 A few miles south of my residence, 22 years later, a geography teacher altered the record identifying the name of land that has officially been known as Israel for the last 76 years.

I learned about the geography teacher from a Philadelphia Inquirer article last Tuesday (May 14) which reported that a Jewish parent filed a federal civil rights complaint against the school district for alleged antisemitic acts at the Masterman magnet school downtown.

Antisemitic episodes at Baldi and other city schools were described by Jason Holtzman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, according to the Inquirer. Holtzman said he was reciting situations reported by members of the School District of Philadelphia Jewish Family Association.

The Baldi segment, buried deep into the story, leapt out from the page by informing me that a teacher would convey false information to their students. It is disturbing that students will assault classmates and otherwise buy into distorted narratives, but how can a teacher buy into it?

Bianca Gillis, the principal, wrote to parents that “the map did not reflect the political boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian territories, leaving students feeling unsupported. The teacher’s efforts to support some of their students, did not support all students in the way they deserve.”

She added that the “incident has deeply offended many of our students, staff and parents. I want to be crystal clear that this incident is unacceptable and we are currently looking into it, in accordance with our Code of Ethics and School Board Policies, respectively. We have also already addressed this with the individuals involved.”

Maybe we can give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, that s/he did not know the correct name of the country. Much like a math teacher who cannot add or a social studies instructor who cannot recall what happened on July 4, 1776.

By all appearances, the teacher intentionally lied to the students to indoctrinate them.

In either case, the teacher should be fired, and the school district should inquire into any state or federal laws which might apply.

The Baldi teacher can adopt the defensive tactics of Brooklyn grade school teacher Rita Lahoud, who excluded Israel from a map of North Africa and the Middle East. She labeled the land “Palestine.”

Then she had the chutzpah to gripe in an e-mail that she “felt abandoned and unprotected” by the city’s Education Department when she was attacked on social media. The department should have her back – if she is right. By deliberately imparting false information, she is lucky to keep her job. In fact, David C. Banks, New York City’s schools chancellor, resisted calls to fire her when he testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Wednesday, May 8, according to Times.

Banks conceded that she “made a mistake.”

Some college professors nationwide, from Columbia University to UCLA, participated in illegal protests or voiced support for them. Arts and sciences faculty at Columbia last Thursday (May 19) passed a vote of no confidence against university President Minouche Shafik partly for seeking city police intervention, as reported by The New York Daily News.

The no confidence resolution reads, “The president’s choices to ignore our statutes and our norms of academic freedom and shared governance, to have our students arrested, and to impose a lockdown of our campus with continuing police presence, have irrevocably undermined our confidence in her.”

These Columbia professors are ignorant of our criminal laws. When a crime is committed, we usually call police. Protesters at Columbia were committing crimes – low-level crimes, perhaps, but crimes nonetheless. They maintained an encampment of tents prohibited by the university, harassed Jewish students and even seized control of a building. Shafik called in police twice which led to more than 100 arrests.

The faculty members also speak out of both sides of their mouths: “A vote of no confidence in the president is the first step towards rebuilding our community and re-establishing the university’s core values.”

That passage can trigger more hostility with their own colleagues, the administration and students who were victimized by the demonstrations. As teachers with advanced degrees, they must think the rest of us are stupid. They have no respect for our legal system. How did they even get their jobs?

Critics of Shafik and other college administrators have complained of abusive police tactics. Even if that is a legitimate issue, it is one that must be taken up with the mayor and city council.

At the University of California-Los Angeles, 10 faculty members were arrested when the California Highway Patrol removed an encampment last May 2. Several dozen faculty members had volunteered to join the students at their encampment on campus and, on May 2, they linked arms with students, permitting themselves to be arrested when police arrived, the Times reports.

Graeme Blair, an associate professor of political science, told the Times, “The faculty was there to try to be the first people arrested, to stand in front of the students to bear witness. We watched from that vantage as the California Highway Patrol aimed weapons that were using nonlethal ammunition. We basically pleaded with them to not aim their weapons at our students, at what was an entirely peaceful protest.”

They persist in calling these incidents “peaceful protest(s).” Somewhat comparable to Hamas calling Oct. 7 an act of “resistance.”

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.

Check Also

Casting a Light

Barbara Steinmetz shares an essay written by her Grand Niece Bina Newman, who won an essay contest on Anti Semitism sponsored by the Columbus, Ohio JCC.

Your Time Is Now: Preparing this Summer for Your College Admissions Journey (Rising Senior Version)

Adam Max advises rising high school seniors on college admissions, emphasizing refining college lists, defining application voices, and drafting essays.

Leave a Reply