REPORT: Anti-Israel Education in NYC’s K-12 Schools

An antisemitic “bait and switch” appears to be happening in New York City’s Department of Education (NYC DOE). The ruse, facilitated by the department and its Chancellor David Banks, claims they are addressing the rampant antisemitism in its public schools while at the same time, facilitating it.

Specifically, the department is taking steps to educate the next generation of New York City’s children against Israel and into the pro-Hamas, “anti-colonialist” ideology now prevalent on the city’s streets.

The NYC DOE, over which Bank presides, is the largest K-12 public school system in the United States and among the largest in the world. NYC’s public schools serve over 1.1 million students across the city’s five boroughs in 1,800 separate institutions.

A month after the Hamas’ October 7, 2023 massacre of 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of 250 more, Chancellor Banks sent an email to teachers prior to a planned November 9, 2023 student and staff walkout billed as part of a national “shutdown for Palestine” event.

In the email, Banks cautioned teachers about violating the education department’s rules on political speech, even going so far as to warn them that this type of activity, “even on one’s personal time,” can violate city rules if it “disrupts…the school environment.”

“All employees should ensure that expressions of their personal political views are kept separate from their NYCPS job. School leaders, teachers, and other school staff should not express their personal views about political matters during the school day, while on school grounds, or while working at school events, and it is critical that they set aside their personal views during class discussions about current events.”

However, what has happened in practice tells a different story. Not only did staff participate in the November 9 walkout, but there have been no perceivable consequences for their actions. In addition, instances have been reported where teachers directly facilitated student involvement in the protests.

Teachers have not only been emboldened by Banks’s lack of disciplinary action, but some consider themselves impervious because they are tenured. (Unlike many public school systems around the country, the NYC DOE has a system of quasi-tenure, which makes it harder to fire a teacher who has been granted this status.)

But arguably some of the most egregious violations of the NYC DOE’s rules have come from the chancellor himself. Since the conflict began, Banks has hired or rewarded a number of blatantly anti-Israel activists, some for the explicit purpose of educating students and staff on Israel and the war.  

On Nov 25, 2023, students rampaged through Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, after it was discovered that a teacher had attended a pro-Israel rally. It took 24 police officers to rescue the teacher and nearly two hours for staff to bring order back to the school.

During the riot, students stormed through the hallways yelling, “F**k the Jews,” ripped a water fountain out in a hallway and shattered tiles in a bathroom.

[PHIL – We are looking for a video of this now]

The teacher, a veteran educator of 23 years who has taught at Hillcrest for the last seven, was whisked away shortly before the riot started and left locked in an office as students attempted to force their way into her classroom.

At a press conference following the incident, Banks defended the students from accusations that they had been “radicalized” at the school.

“This notion that these kids are radicalized and antisemitic is the height of irresponsibility,” he said. “I, for one, will not accept that at all.”

At a “both sides” meeting in January 2024 with a group of education and faith leaders about antisemitism and Islamophobia, Banks said he found the student protest “deeply concerning,” but countered that, “The way through this moment is not to malign our students or to impose our own ideologies on them. We must distinguish between truth and misinformation, and between disagreement and hate.”

Following the incident, Banks reassigned Scott Milczewski, Hillcrest’s principal, and appointed him director of teacher development and evaluation within the NYC DOE. At a May 8, 2024 Congressional hearing that zeroed in on the antisemitism problem in New York City’s public schools, Banks claimed that incidents have been dealt with “in an appropriate fashion.”

Referring to Hillcrest and Milczewski, Banks was pointedly asked by Rep. Brandon Williams (R-NY), “How can Jewish students feel safe in New York City public schools when you can’t even manage to terminate the principal of ‘open season on Jews High School?’”
Banks replied, “We considered his leadership to not be strong enough in that school.” Williams countered, “Is he strong enough to be on your payroll?”

Reporting on the hearing, the New York Post wrote, “Critics called Banks’ testimony dishonest.” The Post then cited NYC Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who said that Banks’s comments “make it seem as though NYC has somehow got a handle on antisemitism.”

“He wasn’t transparent. He danced around direct questions and couldn’t say what disciplinary action was taken against antisemitic students and teachers,” she added.

DEBBIE ALMONTASER “INTIFADA HIGH”

Shortly after Banks’ congressional testimony, where his school system was singled out along with two others in the country for antisemitism problems, NYC DOE hired Debbie Almontaser, the notorious former principal of what became known as “Intifada High.”

Almontaser earned the moniker and outrage when, in 2007, interview when she condoned T-shirts that read “Intifada NYC,” causing her to resign as head of the city’s newly formed Khalil Gibran International Academy.

Further, the city has paid Almontaser through her firm at least $235,000 in taxpayer money since fiscal year 2021, according to city records. On June 6, 2024, Bridging Cultures Group conducted professional development training sessions in at least 10 NYC public schools.

Speaking to the New York Post, Sharon Malkin, a teacher at Horace Greeley IS 10Q in Astoria, Queens, said the workshop makes no mention of the Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas and being held in Gaza or the missile strikes launched by Iran and other terror groups at Israel.

Based on a video of the workshop, the Post reported that another presenter “snickered before providing her group data on the 1,200 Jewish deaths on Oct. 7 compared to over 37,000 Palestinian deaths over the past eight months.” Malkin also confirmed this information.

It should also be noted that Almontaser is:

  • Currently the board president of the Muslim Community Network, an organization that has been active in backing anti-Israel protests and offers “safety-training” seminars to protesters
  • Promotes hatred of Israel and spreads anti-Israel content on her social media accounts
  • Promotes anti-Israel rallies and student walkouts on U.S. college campuses on social media
  • Endorses and promotes antisemites Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Linda Sarsou
  • Endorses and promotes antisemite Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and her daughter who was suspended from Barnard College for disruptive anti-Israel protests

BROOKLYN PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER RITA LAHOUD

Rita Lahoud is a teacher at PS 261, an elementary school in Brooklyn where she runs an Arab Culture Arts program and also teaches Arabic to grades 1-4. As late as January 2024, a map of the “Arab World” hung in her classroom, in which she affixed a handwritten label over Israel, renaming it “Palestine.”

The arts program is funded by the Qatar Foundation International (QFI), the American affiliate of the Qatar Foundation) which is known to be bankrolled by Qatar’s royal family. In 2019, it was reported that QFI “gives grants to public K-12 schools, academic programs and colleges” in order to “support education in Arabic language and about the Arab world.”

In the May 2024 congressional hearing in which the issue of Lahoud’s map was raised, Banks admitted that the “Qataris write the checks,” but denied that the map was part of the program. He further claimed that the foundation “has had no impact…on the curriculum that’s been developed and how it’s been implemented.”

In April 2024, after the map incident, QFI gave Lahoud its 2023 Arabic Teacher Excellence Award.

As of June 2024, Lahoud still retains her position at PS 261.

In November 2023, close to 200 parents signed a petition against Siriana Abboud, the only preschool teacher at PS 59 Beekman Hill International School in Midtown Manhattan, for her “ongoing campaign against Jews.”

The parents’ petition asked the NYC DOE to investigate Abboud, whose Instagram account was filled with anti-Israel hate. The parents had discovered posts, such as, “For 100 years European Zionists have tried to wipe Palestine off the map,” (May 15, 2021) and “There can be no peaceful Zionism. There can be no peace so long as Zionism exists…” (June 30, 2021)

In addition, Abboud also runs the Allusio Academy, an online business that provides at-home curricula for kids as well as consultations, webinars and workshops for parents, teachers and activists to “unlearn” wrong information about “Palestine.”

Her recommendations include the notorious antisemitic children’s book “P Is for Palestine” (by Golbarg Bashi).

Abboud’s social media guides offer advice on how to talk to 4-year-olds about “land theft, displacement and ethnic cleansing.” As reported by the New York Post, after October 7, “She encourages parents to take them [young children] to pro-Palestinian protests — while blasting Israel as a ‘fascist ethnostate.’”

Yet, despite Abboud’s egregious Instagram posts, NYC DOE took no action. In fact, the department failed to even respond to the allegations against Abboud. Quoting parents with children in the school, the Post reported that PS 59 principal Nekia Wise had “flatly refused to discuss Abboud, becoming hostile when asked about the school’s sole pre-K teacher.”

Shockingly, in mid-November, NYC DOE selected Abboud for the 2023-2024 Big Apple Award, the highest possible honor for an NYC public school teacher. The award also affords the recipient a seat on the Chancellor’s Teacher Advisory Council.

Abboud came under public scrutiny as early as 2022 when she was called out for pinning a drawing of noses outside her classroom with a note asking, “Why do people have different noses?”

Jewish staffers complained at the time that the display evoked antisemitic stereotypes, yet no disciplinary action was taken against Abboud.
Without explanation, Abboud quit her teaching position at PS 59 in Feb 2024.

WALKOUTS IN SUPPORT OF HAMAS

The November 9, 2023 walkout was billed as an event advocating for a ceasefire. However, calls for a ceasefire just weeks after the beginning of Israel’s actions to eradicate the Hamas terrorists on their border are broadly understood as code words for support for the terrorist group and its machinations.

Tellingly, the November 9 walkout was scheduled to coincide with Kristallnacht, the 1933 pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany that marked the beginning of the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps.

The November 9 walkout was the first in a series of anti-Israel protests in NYC’s schools that are part of pro-Hamas campaigns led by multiple national anti-Israel organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), where students are taught to chant for “intifada,” i.e., a call for the violent destruction of Israel.

At the November 9 protest, in which 770 NYC public education students participated during school hours after walking out of their classes, one teacher told The Daily News that she is tenured and thus plans to continue protesting.

“I’m not going to let the chancellor scare me into silence. No way, no how,” said the middle school teacher from Manhattan’s School District 1, who spoke to the News on the condition of anonymity. The teacher related that she has been wearing a keffiyeh (a symbol of intifada) to school every day, but mentioned no consequences from that behavior.

As late as May 2024, with the School Walkout & Rally at the NYC DOE and Banks headquarters, NYC’s public schools have allowed students to leave class and allow students to leave class to protest the Israeli “genocide” of Palestinians and call for BDS.

EDITORS NOTE: This Canary Mission report is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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