An Open Letter to the Chair of Instructional Quality Commission, CA

13 Nov

Dear Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond,

American Palestinian Women’s Association is dismayed by California’s Department of Education’s attempt to suppress our children’s narrative. As mothers of American Palestinian children we ask you to consider how your commission’s decision  to ignore and muzzle their voice and narrative affects their development. How can we expect our children to develop into competent and caring citizens when they are silenced at school, and their truth and the world they intimately know and care about is shunned?

California is home to a large American Palestinian community, ignoring their right to be included in CA’s state standards is not only indefensible, it is wrong. As Americans we already know the cost of excluding the narrative of some students for the benefit of others. A mountain research exists that documents the harmful impact of past school practices that intentionally excluded the voice of Native and African Americans. These practices have severely impacted the character of our nation. The social and racial divisions we abhor and lament today, are the direct result of past school programs that promoted and highlighted the heritage and history of some Americans and intentionally excluded others.

An inclusive curriculum that respects the background of all students raises the consciousness of everyone. It is an essential component of creating an informed, compassionate, and better educated America. Inclusive schools are critical change agents. They are essential in building principled citizens and inclusive democratic societies. 

Like all other American children, our children should feel welcomed by teachers and peers alike. Regardless of their religious and ethnic background their truth should be respected. An inclusive Arab American series within the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) is absolutely critical to the well being of our children, as well as all other school children. Irrespective of the political inclination of educators, policy makers, and school leaders, the heritage and narrative of every public school student should be honored and respected by their school community. This is not only important to the individual student; it is also the correct and morally right approach. 

As parents, educators, and citizens of this country we must use every means to fight all expressions of hate and divisiveness, and we must not carry and promote ill guided exclusive political agendas. For example, reasonable Americans believe that school policies should not be dictated by those who want to erase our role in the slave trade and its brutal affect on generations of African Americans. They would argue that inclusive schools that teach and learn about our colonial past are pro America. They protect and promote our national character, values, and democratic principles. Correspondingly, ignoring the long struggle of the Palestinian people will not erase their truth or history. More importantly, it will not advance the just call of the Jewish people or the Palestinian people to be free of bigotry and hate.

We strongly support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance original purpose of tracking anti- Semitism. However, including the IHRA’s controversial “definition” of anti-Semitism that aim to mute any criticism of Israel’s right wing governments and their policies in the ESMC will not benefit anyone-not even Israelis or the Jewish people- but it will harm many. 

Kenneth Stern, the anti-Semitism expert at the American Jewish Committee, was the first scholar to articulate and define the intent of IHRA, and he says “it’s been subverted“. Stern helped unify our understanding of the world’s oldest form of hatred. Yet, he strongly objects to how the IHRA definition has become a tool to silence critics of Israel’s political agenda and its military occupation policies. To mute and dismiss the Palestinian people and narrative. We genuinely believe that denying the history and narrrative of the Palestinian people subverts the moral fabric of the Israeli people and undermines their democratic values. Moreover, when the IHRA definition is improperly used for political objectives, and especially when it is formulated and used to advance Israel’s right wing extremists, it harms Israel and the Jewish people. They are not alone. It also puts the Palestinians and their supporters in danger.

California’s educational standards often inform other state and local school districts nationwide. If the proposed ESMC is adopted, it will be copied and promoted by anti-Palestinian groups as a model for other states. Excluding the Palestinian narrative is not only suspect, it is reckless. A robust Arab American program that includes the Palestinian narrative within the ESMC is totally reasonable, and it is the right school policy. As an educator, I know you understand the merits of this letter and the importance of honoring all your students.  For all the above reasons, we are calling on you and the IQC to:

  • Educate students on the dangers of anti- Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and all expressions of hate of the other,
  • Return the Arab American lesson plan to where it belongs, within Asian American studies,
  • Stop censoring Palestinian narratives from Arab-American lesson plans,
  • Remove all definitions of anti-Semitism that fuse criticism of Israel or Zionism to anti-Semitism.


Dr. Mai Abdul Rahman


American Palestinian Women’s Association

2 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Chair of Instructional Quality Commission, CA”

  1. Barbara A. Blanks November 13, 2020 at 2:28 am #

    So often, American officials will embrace an idea or a narrative so furiously, thinking that it is in their personal best interest, that they are willing to go to any length to ignore the truth. Directly linking resistance to Israel and zionism to anti semitism and choosing to ignore and to extinguish the brutal Palestinian experience, is as wrong as linking opposition to white supremacy to anti patriotism and pretending that American slavery never happened, but worst. When the truth is substituted for a lie, every one pays. What little we gain in the short term, multiple generations will pay for dearly. You cannot build a life of truth and happiness on a foundation of lies. I agree with every thing the author of this letter wrote, and I urge you to follow her recommendation. Thank you.

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