Days after Schools Chancellor David Banks spoke at a roundtable event outlining plans to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in schools, a Jewish group called “End Jew Hate” led a protest blasting the DOE for not doing enough to address what they feel is rampant anti-Semitism in public schools.
“Jewish children are fearful of wearing their Jewish stars; Jewish teachers are at risk of alienation from colleagues in the name of ‘social justice’ and Jewish learning is compromised when curriculum is taught with skewed and false narrative,” said Michelle Ahdot director of planning and strategy, for “End Jew Hatred.” She spoke to around 200 protestors who gathered on the steps of the Department of Education headquarters in lower Manhattan at 52 Chambers St, which is the old Tweed Courthouse, on Jan. 31.
She said she represented a grassroots organization founded “to insure that Jewish Civil Rights are observed and Jewish empowerment thrives.”
She mentioned various anti-Semitic incidents in the public schools, including a now notorious incident at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, after students threatened a teacher there when Pro-Palestinian students there noticed her pro-Israel social media post. In the days after the Oct. 7 attack, she was holding up a sign that said, “I stand with Israel.” Pro Palestinian students flooded the hallways in protest as she barricaded herself into a classroom. The NYPD had to summoned as the school was forced to shut down for two hours.
Mayor Eric Adams had blasted the incident at the time, “The vile show of antisemitism at Hillcrest High School was motivated by ignorance-fueled hatred, plain and simple, and it will not be tolerated in any of our schools, let alone anywhere else in our city.”
Chancellor Banks, who had attended the same school in his youth, had mentioned the incident in his own remarks days before the protest and called “deeply concerning” but insisted the teacher was “never in dire danger.”
Hillcrest’s principal was subsequently reassigned but the incident was viewed by Jewish protestors as only the tip of the iceberg of what they fear is festering antisemitism in certain public schools.
The protestors also called attention to PS 59, the Beekman Hill International School at 223 East 56th Street, where a pro-Palestinian pre-K teacher, Siriana Abboud, shared her views that Israel is a “fascist ethnostate” and offered advice on how to talk to four-year-olds about “land theft, displacement and ethnic cleansing.” Although Abboud went on “medical leave” in December, it’s unclear what, if any, discipline or guidance she received from the school’s principal or the DOE.
A few pro-Palestinian counter-protestors who walked by the protest on the steps of the Dept. of Ed. were met with the chant “Am Yisrael Chai”—Hebrew for “The people of Israel live” though other retorts were also heard, including “F*** you!”— an eruption which was not encouraged—and “Free Palestine From Hamas!”
The NYPD said there has been a surge in all hate crimes since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, but the preponderance of hate crime incidents have apparently been directed against Jews. In the month of December, anti-Jewish hate crimes jumped 121 percent from the same months a year earlier, to 31 reported incidents according to stats from the NYPD, which meant anti-Jewish incidents accounted for more than half the 59 hate crime incidents overall reported on the month. While anti-Muslim incidents were also on the rise, up 300 percent, there were only four reported on the month, compared to one a year earlier.
Ahdoot said she wanted “To send an urgent message to Chancellor Banks that, just as Mayor Adams so eloquently stated in October, we Jews are not okay.”
Tova Plaut, an early childhood education staffer with the DOE and founder of the New York Public School Alliance, an organization that has been tracking antisemitism on their Instagram page, NYCPS_Alliance, said: “It’s time to protect our Jewish students, it’s time to hold accountable those who spread lies and invent biases in our children... It is imperative that we eradicate anti-Semitism from our schools now.”
Karen Bell, an elementary school teacher and parent of New York City public school students told the crowd, “We have a chance now to end this perpetual hated, Jewish hatred, and focus on educating, not propagating.
“I keep thinking to myself, how is this even possible, if we were any other group, how would this be handled? When will our city, our state, our leaders really address the issue they keep silenced about?” she asked.
Bell continued, “If I had one wish, it would be a wish for peace because our children don’t deserve the choice they’re being forced into, either they’re being silenced or becoming political activists... Just like any other community, Jews deserve to feel safe.”
Bell concluded with the hope that by “promoting empathy, tolerance and a little compassion we can build a world where individuals of all backgrounds can thrive and contribute to the collective progress of humanity.”
By “promoting empathy, tolerance and a little compassion we can build a world where individuals of all backgrounds can thrive and contribute to the collective progress of humanity.” Karen Bell, NYC public school teacher