House Republicans accuse K-12 leaders of weak response to antisemitism in schools

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday went after the leaders of prominent K-12 school systems in the U.S. over what they say is a lack of enforcement when antisemitic incidents occur in their districts.

“The topic of today’s hearing is particularly troubling. It’s hard to grasp how antisemitism has become such a dominant force in our K through 12 schools,” said Rep. Aaron Bean (R-Fla.), head of the Education panel Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. ”Some kids as young as second graders spewing Nazi propaganda, which begs the question, who has positioned these young minds to attack the Jewish people?”

While the three school leaders at the hearing appeared to suffer no major breakout moments like the ones that have troubled college administrators in recent hearings, there were tense moments of questioning regarding punishments for antisemitism in their schools.

Much of the hearing focused on David Banks, chancellor of New York City Public Schools, who had fiery interactions with members.

Republicans keyed in on the former Hillcrest High School principal who was removed from his position after a protest occurred against a pro-Israel teacher. Lawmakers took issue that the principal was only transferred to a new position and not fired.

“That’s concerning to me that you have him in a senior position,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has been taking the lead for Republicans in Education hearings on antisemitism. Stefanik accused the leaders of paying “lip service” to addressing antisemitism at schools, saying that they’ve had a “lack of enforcement” and “a lack of accountability.”

Banks was willing to argue with numerous members of Congress during the hearing, emphasizing the principal was removed from the school and the individual is entitled to due process. It can be difficult to fire teachers under union processes, he noted.

He also made a point to push back on members’ claims that his whole school system is antisemitic, saying that while some members of Congress have also said antisemitic things, he doesn’t cast the whole institution as antisemitic.

Banks emphasized numerous times his district has suspended around 30 students and disciplined teachers for antisemitism.

Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District, also pushed back on any assertion antisemitism is pervasive in her schools.

Morthel faced an intense moment with Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) after he pointed out she initially agreed that the phrase “from the river to see, Palestine will be free” is antisemitic but stood by lesson plans her faculty created that said some people use that phrase as a call to peace.

“Is it any wonder that you said earlier this is antisemitic and you put this on a slide in a classroom and then students going around the halls saying it? I don’t think there’s anything surprising about that,” Kiley said.

Morthel refused to answer questions about disciplinary actions against antisemitism, saying records for students and faculty in the state of California are confidential.

Democrats spent time pointing out the vehemence with which Republicans have gone after antisemitism despite supporting former President Trump, who has met with multiple people accused of antisemitism, such as white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

“Despite these persistent examples of comments that others have called antisemitic and continued relationships with well-known antisemites, I have not heard one word of concern for my colleagues across the aisle. In fact, what we have seen is consolidation of support for the former president,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), ranking member of the subcommittee.

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