Groups fear faculty that defended Hamas could set California standards: ‘Institutionalization of antisemitism’

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Dozens of religious and educational organizations are urging the University of California to reject a proposed ethnic studies admission requirement in light of an influential faculty council’s defense of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

“The ethnic studies faculty at the University of California have essentially taken off their mask and shown themselves to be completely sympathetic to the anti-Zionist, pro-Hamas cause,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, which tracks antisemitism at universities.

Protest at UCLA

UCLA students march and rally for Palestine on Nov. 8, 2023. A university council that came under fire for its comments on Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel is leading the charge to require all UC applicants to take an ethnic studies course in high school. (Getty)

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The controversy is twofold, centering on the state’s high school ethnic studies mandate and a separate proposal to make completion of an ethnic studies course a requirement for admission to the University of California. The latter faces renewed opposition after one of the key groups advocating for the requirement penned a letter demanding UC administrators stop referring to Hamas’ attack on Israel as “terrorism.”

“Through ethnic studies, what we’re seeing is the institutionalization of antisemitism,” said Brandy Shufutinsky of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, which opposes narrow and “radical” ideological agendas in education.

In 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill making California the first state to require all students to complete an ethnic studies course in order to graduate. The bill came after a long debate over the model curriculum, early drafts of which AMCHA Initiative and other Jewish groups argued contained antisemitic material.

That requirement takes effect with the graduating class of 2030, though schools must start offering classes by the 2025-26 school year.

But in 2020, as legislators were arguing over the state mandate, the UC faculty senate Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) began considering a proposal to add ethnic studies as an “H” requirement for admission to UC colleges. Currently, all high school applicants must satisfy what are known as the A-G subject requirements, including history, English, math, science and art.

A UC mandate would effectively usurp the state law, which grants each school district the freedom to decide what to include in ethnic studies courses, according to Rossman-Benjamin.

‘INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF ANTISEMITISM’: HEAR MORE FROM BRANDY SHUFUTINSKY:

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If approved, it would push every public and private high school in the state to require not just an ethnic studies class, but one “that met the standards of the UC ethnic studies faculty,” she said.

Otherwise, students would not be eligible to apply to UC schools, nor California State University, which has the same course requirements, EdSource reported.

The UC Ethnic Studies Faculty Council has been instrumental in crafting and advocating for the admissions requirement. Drafts of the course criteria placed a heavy emphasis on “anti-racist and anti-colonial liberation.”

The council recently renewed the call for BOARS to approve the requirement, noting that ethnic studies scholars have revised the course criteria five times “in response to input from non-expert stakeholders.”

Fox News reached out to several members of the Ethnic Studies Faculty Council leadership requesting an interview or comment, but did not get a response addressing the proposed admissions requirement.

UC Ethnic Studies Faculty Council letter over background of Palestinian flag and protesters

A portion of the letter sent by the University of California Ethnic Studies Faculty Council, calling on UC administrators to stop calling the Oct. 7 attack “terrorism.” (Getty Images, UC Ethnic Studies Faculty Council Letter )

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The council defended the Oct. 7 Hamas attack — which killed around 1,200 people, primarily Israeli civilians — as the actions of a “community trying to free themselves from decades-long ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

“We call on the UC administrative leadership to retract its charges of terrorism, to uplift the Palestinian freedom struggle, and to stand against Israel’s war crimes against and ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinian people,” the council wrote last month.

Shufutinsky, an education consultant with the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, said she was shocked the council “felt very comfortable saying the quiet part out loud.”

“But that’s also beneficial because now we are very aware of exactly where they stand and why we have to stand against the proposals that they’re making,” she told Fox News.

AMCHA and more than 100 other religious, education and civil rights organizations signed a letter urging UC leadership to “immediately” reject the “H” requirement, arguing that “faculty who cannot acknowledge that the Hamas massacre is terrorism … must not be trusted to establish state-wide ethnic studies standards for California students.”

Rossman-Benjamin said she thinks the proposal is “dead in the water” now.

“It’s sort of a no-brainer to say, ‘This is just not gonna happen. It can’t happen. This is an outrage,'” she said. “The people who devised this proposal have shown themselves to be so sort of bigoted and ultimately un-academic, un-scholarly, politically-motivated activists who will harm our kids and harm our communities.”

Brandy Shufutinsky stands on National Mall with pro-Israel crowd

Brandy Shufutinsky at the “March for Israel” Nov. 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Event organizers estimated 290,000 people attended the rally. (Courtesy Brandy Shufutinsky/via X)

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Shufutinsky said the ethnic studies discipline has adopted a strict binary that often casts Jews as white and therefore, oppressors.

“There’s this whole idea that we’ve seen, unfortunately, since Oct. 7, that anything an oppressed group of people does to a so-called oppressor group of people is legitimized, and it’s acceptable,” she said.

But the faculty council views critics as trying to suppress the teaching of “hard truths” about “settler colonialism, apartheid, and resistance.”

Now we are very aware of exactly where they stand and why we have to stand against the proposals that they’re making

— Brandy Shufutinsky, Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies

In September, the council wrote to Newsom and California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, objecting to “guardrails” written into the high school mandate. Specifically, the council opposes a ban on promoting “bias, bigotry, or discrimination against any person or group of persons on the basis of any category protected by Section 220” of the state educational code.

“This guardrail has been weaponized by pro-Israel groups to enact anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian censorship,” the council wrote. “We do not believe that the state of California should be restricting or censoring teachers when it comes to the teaching of ethnic studies – or any other subject matter.”

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The state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has already implemented an ethnic studies requirement for the graduating class of 2027, who are freshmen this year.

To hear more from Shufutinsky, click here.

Isabelle McDonnell contributed to the accompanying video.

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