MTA Fights Racism with Anti-Semitism?

Just two months after the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) voted in favor of a ceasefire resolution labeling Israel’s defensive war against Hamas as “a genocidal war on the Palestinian people,” the union has once again engaged in the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.

On March 21st, the MTA hosted a two-hour webinar titled “Context and Connection: Palestinian Struggle Against Anti-Palestinian Racism.” Merrie Najimy, a Concord Public Schools educator and former MTA president, facilitated the webinar featuring presenters Leila Farsakh, Professor of Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UMass Boston; Heike Schotten, Professor of Political Science, Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UMass Boston and founding member of the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism; and Elsa Auerbach, professor emerita at UMass Boston and Jewish Voice for Peace Boston.

Najimy claimed to provide a “framework” for understanding anti-Palestinian racism. In fact, the one-sided panel of radical speakers offered a recitation of crude anti-Israel propaganda. Racism, in their view, is any attempt by the Jewish people to fulfill their right to self-determination and the state of Israel to defend itself from attack by Arab countries and terrorist organizations. Not surprisingly, the Hamas massacre of 1,200 Israelis on October 7th was mentioned just three times, all to make false claims about the history of the conflict and of the massacre itself.

Farsakh spoke of the supposed “rise in violence against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” downplaying the October 7th terrorist attack by referring to it as the “event of October 7th” while calling Israel’s defensive actions “the massacre that followed,” diminishing the terrorist attack while calling Israel’s defensive war the massacre. Najimy called for a ceasefire, an end to what she termed genocide, and the release of both Israeli and Palestinian captives, equating Israeli hostages to Palestinian prisoners.

The panelists emphasized the idea that Israel and, as Schotten put it, the “so-called United States,” are settler colonial states and argued that anti-Zionism should not be equated with anti-Semitism. Intentionally disregarding major events in the Hamas-Israeli conflict and manufacturing absurd historical claims, the panelists promoted a narrative of Palestinian victimhood at the hands of Israeli oppression. Presenters falsely claimed the people living in the mandate during the 1920s were “Jewish Arabs, Muslim Arabs, and Christian Arabs.”

The panel never mentions the ancient, indigenous, and continuous Jewish presence in the land of Israel—where only the Jewish people have ever established an enduring sovereignty—and the vast archeological and historical evidence attesting to the Israel-Jewish connection. The speakers misleadingly stated that the many wars launched by Israel’s Arab neighbors “erupted” as if they came out of nowhere. They even redefined the Jewish people as only consisting of a religion, ignoring Jewish ethnic and national identities.

When an audience member asked whether Israel had a right to exist, Schotten was silent, seemingly unable to say yes; so Farsakh injected that Oslo conferred the right and diverted her response to insisting that Zionism is “exclusionary,” ignoring the equal rights enjoyed by all its citizens, Jewish and Arab.  She then stated it is necessary to “separate the Israelis from the state.”

Trafficking in antisemitic tropes, Schotten showed a slide of Jewish organization logos and stated that the criticism of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism is made by “boatloads of pseudo-grassroots organizations” and “billionaires with lots of money to influence presidential elections.”

MTA Union President Max Page stated that the association would also provide a webinar on “the rising tide of antisemitism” in the future.  This is risible.

In promoting anti-Semitic propaganda, the MTA is in no position to explain anti-Semitism to anyone.  Worse, it has encouraged teachers to spread falsehoods and lies demonizing Israel and Jews in their classrooms and has proven itself to be an extremist, divisive organization fostering anti-Jewish prejudice in schools rather than providing historical and factual accuracy for understanding an ongoing conflict or reducing bigotry.

MTA needs to issue a full and factual retraction of the material falsehoods and defamation of the Jewish people disseminated to the public in its March 21st webinar and promptly provide a date—with equal time and prominence—for a public webinar comprised of knowledgeable speakers on the subject of Israel and the Hamas-Israeli conflict to help repair the harm done to public understanding by the MTA.

Teachers, parents, students, and all citizens of Massachusetts have reason to be profoundly alarmed by the MTA’s influence on the Commonwealth’s public schools and the wider community. Swift action is needed to signal the rejection of the MTA’s bigoted messages and ensure measures prevent such messages from entering classrooms.

Photo captured by Jared Gould — Available on X


6 thoughts on “MTA Fights Racism with Anti-Semitism?

  1. ” Swift action is needed to signal the rejection of the MTA’s bigoted messages and ensure measures prevent such messages from entering classrooms.”

    The situation may be much worse than even that.

    Massachusetts law now requires teachers to renew their teacher’s licenses every five years, and further requires that they have a certain number of “Professional Development” (PD) points to do so. Unlike other states (e.g. Maine) that require these to be actual college courses, Massachusetts has gone with “providers” which includes the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association. See:

    According to DESE, the MTA has “51-100” Professional Development events each year, of which this probably was one. If that’s true, not only will this bigoted message be entering classrooms but it will constitute the professional development of the teacher who may otherwise know nothing about the Middle East…

    Massachusetts does now require secondary teachers to have an academic major in the subject they teach, but that only means that Social Studies teachers have a major in *a* Social Studies major, not that they majored in History or even have much of a background in it. Furthermore, DESE allows a teacher to teach one (of five) classes outside the area of certification with much of middle school Social Studies now being taught by teachers not certified in it. And teachers in other fields, e.g. English, will have majored in that and hence know even less about the history of the region.

    Hence it is likely that these bigoted messages are not only going to be entering the classroom but that they will constitute the “professional development” of teachers who have never heard anything else. The middle school English teacher who probably couldn’t find Israel on a map now has been told by “experts” that Israel is evil and hence will be teaching the same. (Sadly, many of those chanting “from the river to the sea” have no idea which river or which sea, let alone the ability to find either on a map.)

    I’m not a fan of the “educator led” model of professional development in the first place, but CAMERA deserves credit for pointing out where it has lead.

    1. Excellent and informative comment. I just wrote to my town’s school committee (and its 2 unopposed candidates for reelection) calling it a necessity that the other side (ours) be part of mandatory continuing ed for town teachers.

      1. The problem in Massachusetts is that school committees no longer have the authority to do that.

        In an attempt to deal with the problems of big city school departments where the Mayor’s Office often interfered in the management of the schools, the Massachusetts 1993 Education Reform law granted Superintendents almost exclusive authority over the schools — but removed them (and Principals) from tenure. Superintendents now are given renewable 5-year contracts with the only real power the school committee has being the authority to not renew the Superintendent’s contract.

        What’s actually happening — a lot — is school committees quietly buying out the contracts of Superintendents whom they wish to get rid of. This involves them spending hundreds of thousands of school money that was supposed to be going for teachers, books, and building repairs — and over the past 30 years it has happened in a lot more communities than you might think.

        There is a closed guild of Superintendents (you have to apprentice with one to become licensed as one) and they go from district to district, wreaking havoc until they are bought out and replaced with another who is no better — it very much is like college presidents, and problematic for the very same reasons.

        The other thing you may run into is that the MTA local has been allowed to negotiate contract language that would prohibit exactly what you wish to accomplish. That’s the school committee’s fault as they are the ones who negotiate the teacher’s contract.

        I’m not saying don’t try — only that it will be much more of a battle than I think you realize. And a lot of this is also at DESE which is why the Governor’s appointments to various positions there are so important.

  2. I am not surprised — the MTA is one of the more virulent affiliates of what I openly refer to as the Never Educate Anyone (NEA), a union that has gone way beyond traditional union things to claiming the authority to set education policy, which it should not.

    Federal law mandates that all children are entitled to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) and I’d love to see some Jewish parents demand that the school district pay for their children to instead attend other schools. I am not aware of the “Appropriate” part having been litigated in this manner before (it’s usually special education) but something like this is enough to make the case that the MTA (and hence it’s membership) are antisemetic and that that creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.

    Can anyone imagine the outcry — or legal consequences — if the MTA had a Klan rally and crossburning? How is this different???

    It’s a suit that I would like to see brought….

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