SANTA CRUZ – Alarmed that the new California State University (CSU) ethnic studies graduation requirement will “incite bigotry and harm against students,” 86 education, civil rights and religious organizations representing a diverse array of ethnic groups, today urged CSU Chancellor Timothy White and the CSU Trustees to publicly affirm how the university plans to protect its students’ free speech rights and their safety.

“Like you, we are deeply troubled by the recent passage of AB 1460 and the harmful impact that an ethnic studies graduation requirement will have on CSU students, faculty and the university system as a whole,” wrote the groups. “Although this unprecedented incursion of the California state legislature into the academic programming of an institution of higher education has raised many causes for concern, our organizations are particularly alarmed by the highly politicized, coercive and divisive nature of the ‘Critical Ethnic Studies’ courses that will form the basis for this requirement. We are extremely concerned that these required courses will be used as vehicles for indoctrinating students into a narrowly prescribed set of politically-motivated and directed values and practices that many students vigorously oppose, and will incite bigotry and harm against students based on their identities, beliefs and opinions. In light of this new requirement, we are writing to ask you to publicly state how you will protect the freedom of conscience and expression and ensure the safety and well-being of all CSU students.”

Many of these organizations had urged Governor Newsom to veto AB 1460, the bill that forced CSU to adopt an ethnic studies requirement. In their letter, the organizations repeatedly noted an important distinction between the broad field of ethnic studies and the narrow discipline of “Critical Ethnic Studies,” which the CSU classes will be based upon. This narrow understanding of ethnic studies has a much more limited focus, and, as a central part of its disciplinary mission, promotes political activism and certain political ideologies the organizations note are antithetical to an educational setting and pose a threat to all students, and particularly Jewish students.

“Unlike other disciplines in the academy, which seek to instruct students in a body of knowledge and provide them with the analytical tools to objectively evaluate that knowledge and arrive at their own conclusions, Critical Ethnic Studies starts with a set of foregone conclusions and ideological commitments that are imposed on students and must be adopted by them without question or debate. We are concerned that students who, for example, reject the anti-capitalist stance of the discipline or other ideological values espoused by its practitioners, would be penalized for expressing their views in an ethnic studies classroom, or would self-censor their expression for fear of public humiliation. In addition, requiring students to engage in politically-directed activism to advance ideologies and values with which they do not agree is nothing short of a coercion of conscience and a blatant violation of students’ academic rights,” added the organizations.

The groups noted that the one-sided, ideologically-driven and coercive nature of Critical Ethnic Studies is particularly harmful to Jewish students.

“Since its inception, Critical Ethnic Studies and its practitioners have falsely and negatively portrayed Zionism as a ‘racist,’ ‘colonialist,’ ‘system of oppression’ that must be dismantled, condoned terrorism against Israel as a justified tool of ‘resistance’ and ‘liberation,’ and championed anti-Israel academic, economic and cultural boycotts as legitimate ‘anti-racist practices,” wrote the groups. “Alarmingly, CSU ethnic studies faculty who have long used their classrooms for anti-Zionist advocacy and activism can now find justification for their politically motivated and directed behavior in the recently approved ‘ethnic studies core competencies.’ Such highly politicized and unprofessional behavior on the part of ethnic studies faculty not only deprives CSU students of accurate information about a complex topic of global importance and tramples on their right to be educated and not politically indoctrinated, it has a well-documented history of inciting hatred and harm towards Israel’s on-campus supporters, particularly Jewish students.” 

Anti-Zionist advocacy and the promotion of BDS are an intrinsic part of the Critical Ethnic Studies discipline, its programming and its classes. In addition, and more alarming, several studies on anti-Semitic activity on U.S. campuses have shown strong correlations between faculty who support and advocate for BDS and acts of harassment targeting Jewish students, including physical and verbal assault, vandalism, bullying, and suppression of speech: Schools with faculty who support BDS are about five times more likely to have incidents targeting Jewish students for harm; schools with student and faculty anti-Zionist expression and BDS promotion are about three times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish hostility; and schools that host departmentally sponsored events that include BDS-supporting speakers are twice as likely to have such incidents.

Most revealing, noted the groups, is a highly disturbing quote from Kenneth Monteiro, head of the CSU Council on Ethnic Studies responsible for developing the "core competencies" that CSU students must achieve after completing their ethnic studies requirement. According to Monteiro, "We actually prepare our teachers to know that on the first day of class, or in the first week, you may have students who are sobbing. This is the first time they’ve had to be this uncomfortable."

“The fact that all students at a public university are forced to take a course that singles out some students for emotional abuse because of their identity is extremely troubling and can’t help but foment deep divisions in the CSU student body and an unsafe, toxic campus climate for many,” wrote the groups in their letter.

When a California commission released a highly political ethnic studies high school curriculum last summer, which was based on this same narrow Critical Ethnic Studies model, many of the groups on today’s letter wrote to the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education to ring similar alarm bells that political indoctrination in schools often leads to increased ethnic bigotry, including anti-Semitism. That draft curriculum was immediately rejected by Newsom and numerous legislators, and the Governor recently vetoed a bill that attempted to make ethnic studies classes based on the model curriculum a high school requirement. 

                                                                                                  RABBI'S CORNER



It has been so long since people could travel freely. Some airlines are at work, most are grounded. Sea travel by means of cruise ships is a worry. Hopefully everyone is davening for the defeat of the virus and the return of what we fondly call normalcy.

In the meantime we have a narrative to read this Shabbat which speaks of Abraham setting out for a destination which G[-]d will show him.

He soon discovers the good – and the bad – points of travel. The Midrash Tehillim says on Psalm 23, "Travel is hard on your clothes, your person and your purse".

All this is true, but if you understand Abraham and his travels metaphorically you know there are no problems.

The itinerary is in the hands of G[-]d. He decides on the destination. He tells Abraham that the travel is necessary. Why? Because embarking on a G[-]d-given task brings purpose and energy into one’s life.

You can have that feeling even when you stay home and only your mind roams.


Why did G[-]d want Abraham to leave home?

Malbim says that there were aspects of Abraham’s homeland which he had to escape.

It was not only the cultural influences in which the patriarch was living which were not good for him or his family. The physical characteristics of the country were also problematical.

The air was impure, the soil was poor quality, the trees and plants were unpleasant, the sun was too fierce and the rain was a problem. All in all, it was not a country where righteous people should live.

Malbim adds that G[-]d was like a vinekeeper who needed the brains to transplant his vines to another area where the air, soil and neighbouring plants would be purer and more fertile.

G[-]d assured Abraham that he should not be frightened about moving countries; if he migrated he would enjoy the blessing.


Who was better, No’ach or Abraham?


No’ach was good in himself but he lived in a challenging generation – the moral man in an immoral situation. Life was especially difficult for him because no-one before him had ever faced up to this problem.

It was a hard struggle, but in the end the Torah had to conclude that No’ach "walked with G[-]d".

Abraham was also a good man whose environment was not always conducive to righteousness, but he had the advantage of knowing the story of No’ach and was steeled by No’ach’s example and able to struggle for morality in the knowledge that if No’ah could do it, so could he.

The Torah said about Abraham that he walked "before" (ahead of) G[-]d. The Almighty could trust him… precisely because there had been a No’ach to set the example.


Great promises made to Abraham figure prominently in the sidra.

There is a promise that his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16) or the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5). There is also a promise, "For all the land which you see, to you will I give it and to your descendants forever" (Gen. 13:15).

It is a small land. Not quite as small as the tiny European nations that are the size of a handkerchief.

But though it can fit a few times over into Wales or Tasmania, it is a land of immense contrast – snow in the north, desert in the south.

It is a land of amazing beauty; what the sages say about Jerusalem could be extended to the land as a whole, "Ten measures of beauty descended upon earth; nine were taken by Jerusalem" (Kiddushin 49b).

It is a productive land, though without the effort and ingenuity of the pioneers few would have thought the desert would bloom and the land become green.

But what really matters about Israel is not simply its physical features but the way it fulfils you as a Jew.

There is an ambiguity about Jewish identity in the Diaspora. If a person wants to live and learn as a Jew in Israel, on the other hand, it is as natural as breathing the air.

True, there are problems in Israel – tensions between Jewish ideologies, suspicion between the secular and the religious, a generally threadbare presentation of Judaism in the general school system – but there are also genuine, sincere people who are working to narrow the gaps and find solutions to the problems.

There are also amazing personalities who are unafraid to think unconventionally about issues of faith, ethics and identity. And there are respected institutions that yield to no-one in their loyalty to halachah whilst also addressing the role and status of women.


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