Removal of Arab-American section from California curriculum condemned

Community leaders blame pressure campaign due to references to Israeli occupation of Palestine


ATLANTA: Members of the Arab and Muslim communities in California have vowed to fight a decision by the State Board of Education (SBE) to remove the Arab-American section of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) because of its references to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Community leaders have accused the SBE of anti-Arab racism and succumbing to pro-Israel and right-wing pressure intended to remove Arab-American and Palestinian narratives.

California had commissioned the ESMC for high school students, and tasked a group of professional educators and experts in the field to develop it in 2016.

The ESMC is designed to focus on Americans who have been left out of history books despite having made significant contributions to civil rights and other struggles.

The Arab-American section of the curriculum was part of Asian-American studies. The section’s removal has infuriated Arab-American organizations and leaders, who have called for the decision to be rescinded.

The Washington-based Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) called the decision a “broad assault” on Arab-American experiences in the US.

“The erasure Arab Americans face extends to the pages of textbooks, where legislators even removed ‘Arabs’ under a lesson plan on the experiences of minorities post 9-11 while including other minorities impacted by the attacks,” the ADC said in a statement.

“Arab Americans are embedded in American civic society, the civil rights movement, labor movement history, and play an integral part in pushing back against police brutality, discrimination, racial profiling, unwarranted surveillance, and other issues impacting all Americans.”

An estimated 800,000 Arab Americans live in California, and Arabic is the fourth most common language in the state, according to the ADC.

Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resources Center in San Francisco, told Arab News that the Arab-American section was the only one that was removed from the curriculum. She said the ease with which the SBE removed it is due to “institutionalized racism.”

Kiswani added that the ESMC was subjected to fierce criticism by a coalition of right-wing and Jewish-American organizations claiming the program was “anti-Semitic” mainly for its critical treatment of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

She said the charge was rejected by the curriculum’s authors and Arab-American leaders and organizations.

Kiswani expressed concern that the SBE’s decision will eventually criminalize teachers for teaching students about Palestine and other Arab- and Muslim-American issues.

She said the Arab-American community and supportive communities and minorities in California are mobilizing to challenge the legality of the SBE’s decision, and efforts are underway to develop an alternative optional curriculum.

Dr. Hatem Bazian, chairman of the California-based organization American Muslims for Palestine, told Arab News that the Arab-American community has been subjected to a fierce racist campaign, including by Hindu nationalists in the US who have forged a strategic alliance with the pro-Israel lobby.

“We see the impact of this alliance on the local level with the concerted efforts to empty the curriculum of its Arab and Palestinian narrative,” he said.

Bazian said although the removal of the Arab-American section is a setback for the community, the battle to restore it is ongoing.

Arab News contacted Californian Congressman Darrell Issa, who is of Arab-American heritage, for comment but received no answer by the time this article was published.

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