In response to the state of Israel’s horrific, genocidal brutality against the Palestinian people, hundreds of thousands people around the world have expressed their outrage. People have poured into the streets in mass demonstrations, occupied government buildings, marched on freeways, pressured city councils to pass resolutions, and more. In Oakland California, teachers, staff, students, and families have been active on a range of fronts, including getting the teachers’ union to pass a resolution condemning the genocide, currently pressuring the school board to pass a similar resolution, walking out of classes, and more recently to hold a “teach-in” across the district on the situation in Palestine.
In the current political climate in the United States and around the world, the fact that this teach-in took place, as did so many other public acts of solidarity, is extremely important. Nearly everywhere, there has been a vigorous campaign to intimidate and silence people who have been critical of the state of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinians. People have been fired from their jobs, kicked out of universities, and publicly doxxed. In countries like France and Germany, demonstrating for Palestine or simply displaying the flag is criminalized. Here in the United States, the bipartisan Congress is currently taking initial steps toward criminalizing free speech by equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
To be clear, anti-Semitism is a very real threat that needs to be fought against here in the United States and around the world. However, to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a manipulative attack on critics of Israeli and U.S. government policy.
In Oakland, teachers who have dared to speak out in their classrooms have been denounced by the school superintendent, threatened with lawsuits, bullied by some principals and harassed by a relatively small but vocal group of Zionist parents. One of the most common implications was that to engage in teaching about Palestine would create a hostile and unsafe environment for Jewish students.
In spite of this climate of fear, determined activists within the Oakland schools continued with holding a teach-in on Wednesday, December 6. A call was put out to teachers and community members, encouraging them to participate in the teach-in. Activists compiled and developed a wide range of materials geared towards various age groups on the situation in Palestine.
On the day of the teach-in, an estimated 100 teachers throughout the district participated in one form or another. Some students wrote letters to young people in Gaza, others learned about Palestinian culture, others discussed and wrote what “freedom” means to them, others participated in zoom discussions with Palestinian-American and Jewish-American activists, others made art, and others learned how colonialism in Palestine connects with colonialism in the Americas.
Despite pushback from various sources, the teach-in was an important step and a success. In the words of a parent of an elementary school student:
Dear [school name] Teachers,
I want to THANK YOU for being a teacher!
As a parent of one [school name] student, I appreciate those of you who will go against the “power” to teach our students about Palestine today. What teachers have decided to do today is the right thing for students. Students have the right to be given the information to think critically, which is the responsibility of educators.
As a parent, I am proud of the teachers who are willing to take the time to teach about the genocide that is happening as I’m writing this email. Our Kids learn about genocides all the time. This teach-in is the right thing to do, and it should be part of the curriculum from now on!
Thank you again!
And remember, as one of the books to read to Elementary students says, P is for Palestine!
Parent of [school name] 2nd grader