Teaching anti-Semitism in Arizona public schools will include any claim that the state of Israel has no right to exist, according to legislation approved Tuesday by the state Senate.
The 16-14 vote came over the objections of every Democratic lawmaker who said that it would effectively stifle any discussion of how the government there is dealing with Palestinians living both within the official state and in occupied territories.
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said he has no problem with teaching students about the Holocaust. But he said the language in HB2282 “will only end up upending the Palestinian narrative, helping to keep Palestinians from obtaining freedom, justice and equality.”
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said he understands the need to teach about the Holocaust and deal with the problems of anti-Semitism, especially given the rise of “populist and fascist white nationalism.”
But this bill, he said, is something else.
“There is a strong and a well-funded lobbying effort that’s underway right now to take advantage of this crisis to redefine ‘anti-Semitism’ to include any criticism of the nation-state of Israel,” Quezada said.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who is behind the measure, denied that is the case. He said nothing in the measure precludes criticizing the policies of the Israeli government.
“If you’ve spent any time in Israel, you know that criticizing the state of Israel and the government is really an Israeli pastime. And he pointed out the legislation spells out that it does not “diminish or infringe on any right that is protected under the Constitution of Arizona or the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”’
What Boyer said this is aimed at are things he considers “blood libel,” ranging from denying the scope or even existence of the Nazi genocide or even holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel.
He acknowledged, though, that the definition of anti-Semitism in his legislation does include raising questions about not just the policies of the Israeli government but even whether Israel should exist.
“To say that Israel is an apartheid state is ridiculous,” Boyer said.
“And to say that the Jews’ right to re-found their state that they’ve lived in for the last 3,000 years is a racist endeavor?” he continued. “Yeah, that does go beyond legitimate criticism.”
Boyer’s measure is separate from HB2241. Proposed by Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, it would mandate that information about the Holocaust and other genocides be taught at least twice between grades 7 and 12.
That measure has cleared the House but awaits Senate action.
The state Board of Education, meanwhile, has approved its own rules requiring the teaching of the Holocaust.
HB 2282 would piggy-back on all that with the requirement to teach about anti-Semitism.
But alarming to some is it uses a definition of anti-Semitism that was adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remberance Alliance. Examples cited by that group include:
– Applying a double standard by requiring Israel to behave in a way not expected or demanded of other democratic nations;
– Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis;
– Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example, by claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Boyer said that definition has been accepted by multiple U.S. administrations, including the current one, and multiple countries around the world. And he said that if the definition is not put into statute, any Holocaust education in Arizona “could be corrupted in ways that could ironically boost contemporary anti-Semitism rather than combat it.”
But Quezada questioned making that a part of state law.
“Given the absolute horrors that are continuously happening literally right now in the Palestinian occupied territories in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Sheikh Jarrah (a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem), this purely political effort should be looked at with a more critical eye right now more than ever because of all that’s happening,” he said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to these human rights abuses that are happening in Israel right now.”
More to the point, Quezada said calls for freedom, justice and equality of Palestinians or arguments that vigorously criticize policies of the Israel government “is not the same as anti-Jewish hate.”
“Those are two very separate and different things,” he said.
Boyer, a long-time supporter of Israel, questioned whether there really is any discrimination against the Palestinians.
He said the Palestinians were promised not just Gaza but also 97% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But he said the Israeli government could not agree to demands by Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat for a “right of return” of five million Arab Palestinians to become Israeli citizens. And Boyer said that was unacceptable in a democratic country because there would no longer be a Jewish majority.
And, that, he said, is why they can’t vote. It also has led to a series of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
This isn’t Boyer’s first foray into Israeli policies and international relations..
In 2014, then a state representative, he got the House to go on record as saying that the entire West Bank belongs to Israel, and the 650,000 Jews who at that time already had settled there since the 1967 war “reside there legitimately.”
Boyer’s resolution said that the area, which some Israelis refer to by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria, was granted to Israel “through the oldest recorded deed, as recorded in the Old Testament.” And the resolution said the “claim and presence” of the Jewish people in Israel, including the West Bank, has “remained constant throughout the past 4,000 years of history.”
Finally, it declared that Israel is not an “occupier of the lands of others,” and that there can be peace in the area “only through a whole and united Israel.”