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Politics: Dei Is Failing My Diverse And Jewish Berkeley, Ca.

POLITICS: DEI is failing my diverse and Jewish Berkeley, Ca. family

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I am the mother of three children in the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).

My family moved to this California college town 10 years ago to raise our son, who is mixed black and Jewish, in a progressive area where I naively thought all of his identities would be embraced equally.

But as I quickly learned, the only way to be an acceptable Jew here is to hate Israel. 

Last Oct. 13 — barely a week after the Hamas attack on Israel — the terror group infamously declared a “Global Day of Jihad” against Israel.

Despite the violent anti-Israel protests then raging, my kids’ Berkeley schools stood strategy-less in the face of the threat against its Jewish students. 

Students at Berkeley High School during a walk-out in October in support of Palestinians. Gabe Stutman/The Jewish News of Northern California

My 6 year old’s elementary school had zero security plans in place.

When I asked my high-schooler if he felt safe going to class, he deadpanned, “Yeah, I’m black, so nobody thinks I’m Jewish.”

What does it say when my son feels safer as a black man in Berkeley than he does as a Jew?

As was reported in The New York Times this past week, antisemitism has been on a collision course with mutlcultaism in Berkeley schools for years.

There are minor incidents, such as cakes served to students during Arab Heritage month — despite overlapping with Passover.

Or a “multicultural night” potluck also held, guess when, during Passover.

Then there are more serious incidents such as giant classroom maps of the Middle East that intentionally exclude Israel (the type New York Public school chancellor David Banks conceded on Wednesday during testimony before Congress that can be found in New York). 

And, of course, the mid-October student walk-out in support of a Gaza ceasefire. 

A classroom at Berkeley High School filled with pro-Palestine posters. Courtesy of Ilana Pearlman

We would never accept a “multicultural” potluck over Ramadan — or maps that erase Palestine  — so why is this OK for Israel and Jews? 

The answers are actually not that difficult to decipher. 

A quick look at the BUSD’s dedicated “ethnic studies website makes clear that Jews — despite comprising  a mere 2.4% of the US population and upwards of 60% of current hate crimes — are not considered minorities. 

“Indigenous, Black, Pacific Islander, Asian/Desi/Arab, and Chicanx/Latine/Latinx” — yes.

Jews, no. 

In fact there’s an entire section of the site dedicated to why not: “Ethnic Studies is the only field that actively centers communities of color.” 

In other words, according to the BUSD, Jews are white. 

Such thinking is not only outdated — it denies the existence of my black/Jewish son, while perpetuating the nefarious “Jews are white” myth that powers so much of the antisemitism and anti-zionism now coursing through the world.

The contentious for-profit ethnic-studies organization awarded a six-figure consulting contract with the Berkeley Unified School District.

In-school anti-zionism doesn’t come cheap: Last year, BUSD spent $111,000 to work with the DEI consultancy Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (LESMCC), a for-profit group that previously described its own work “Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Imperialist, and Anti-Zionist” world view.

Unsurprisingly, LESMCC content has been sanctioned by the California Department of Education for being overtly biased and anti semitic.

LESMCC also promoted an Oct. 8 anti-Israel walkout to celebrate the Hamas atrocities where chants such as “kill the Jews” were heard.”

In response to the rising campus hate, Berkeley Jews in School, our grassroots Jewish parent-led organization, launched in October to take action against antisemitic incidents.

We believe that Jewish students in Berkeley have the right to study free from bias, anti-semitism and anti-zionism.

Our tagline is “Believe Jewish Students” and we believe it has never been more resonant — in Berkeley and nationwide. 

Berkeley schools Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel during her grilling before Congress this past week to address charges that her campuses have left Jewish students feeling unsafe. Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Because rather than study free from fear, our kids now endure chants such as “Kill the Jews.”

They must study in classrooms with posters asking, “How’s the school/work/life/genocide balance going for you today?”

There’s been graffiti at the bus stop in front of Berkeley HS stating “Kill all Zionists.”

Jewish students share stories of being told to pick up pennies or having their yarmulkes pushed off of their heads. 

School administrators are well aware of this abuse, but to no avail.

“I just stopped reporting things because . . . all it did was make the bullying worse,” one student told me.

This is the failed “restorative justice” process BUSD Superintendent Morthey praised, bafflingly, before Congress this past week.

Spurred by the indifference to our kids, Berkeley Jews in School has created an internal antisemitism tracker, which now includes over 70 documented incidents.

We filed an Office of Civil Rights complaint with the Federal Department of Education in February 2024 and the Department of Education formally opened an investigation against BUSD on May 7.

New York City public schools Chancellor David Banks was also called to Congress to account for charges of antisemitism in NYC schools. AP

Most crucially, I traveled to Washington this week to personally witness Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel’s Congressional grilling.

She, of course, vehemently denied that BUSD has an antisemitism problem.

But we know better – we know to believe Jewish students. 

Ilana Pealrman is part of the leadership of Berkeley Jews in School

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