Photo illustration by The Free Press.

How U.S. Public Schools Teach Antisemitism

From pre-K lessons on ‘ethnic noses’ to lectures on Israel as an apartheid state, students are learning that Jews are the enemy.

Last fall, Siriana Abboud put a new poster on the wall outside her pre-K classroom at a public school in Midtown Manhattan that, she claimed, would teach her four- and five-year-old students about the human body.

The poster showed four sketches of differently shaped noses—two small, one hooked, and another with a nose ring.

“Why do people have different noses?” a headline above the drawings asked.

Underneath, kids posted their answers:

“I think it’s because of your ancestors,” one wrote.

“Where you are from,” scribbled another, with a smiley face and a heart. 

Next to these replies Abboud penned her own answer:

“I think it’s based on your ethnic identity. In art, we can often tell ethnicity from the bridge of your nose.” 

One senior educator in the district, who is Jewish, told The Free Press she was “appalled” by the poster. “It’s clearly connected to the ethnic tropes of Jews having big noses. Quite frankly, it reminded me of Nazi comics. I had a visceral reaction to it. It was antisemitic.” 

The poster Siriana Abboud put up in her pre-K class last year.

But Abboud, a twentysomething who teaches pre-K at PS 59, Beekman Hill International School, wasn’t punished or disciplined by the Department of Education for the poster, a source who knows Abboud told The Free Press. In fact, last December, she won the Big Apple Award, the highest distinction for a city teacher, for being a “liberation-inspired educator” who “raises societal expectations of the critical work of young children.” 

Abboud, who did not respond to The Free Press for comment, posts regularly on her Instagram account, which has nearly 7,000 followers and includes a Lebanese flag in her bio, about her education mission statement: “Centering Arab narratives the way my schooling never did.” In it, she shares “collective action guides” on how to “Speak with your child about Palestine” and how to “Decolonize your teaching.”

Many of her posts use cheery pastel infographics while declaring her support for Palestine, including one message she posted two days after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel that left 1,200 dead. 

On October 9, Abboud wrote: “we stand with those still tearing down border walls,” and “we show solidarity with those still fighting to free their stolen land.”

Earlier, she had made her philosophy for educating kids clear: “Our work of decolonizing education begins in preschool. It is very much already a political practice.”

Ever since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, pro-Palestinian protests have swept U.S. colleges, leading to charges of Jew-hatred and a disastrous congressional hearing where three college presidents failed to offer a clear moral condemnation of rising antisemitism.

But the ideology fueling these demonstrations isn’t limited to the college campus. It now begins in public high schools and even elementary schools as early as pre-K, according to more than 30 public school teachers, administrators, and parents across four states who spoke to The Free Press.

American youths aren’t just encountering the views on TikTok; they’re learning them from teachers and, in some cases, from the mandatory public school curriculum itself. Take California, where a 10th grade history course, approved by the Santa Ana Unified School District, includes readings that call Israel an “extremist illegal Jewish settler population” and accuses the country of “ethnic cleansing.” Or the Jefferson Union High School District near San Francisco, which teaches about the “Palestinian dispossession of lands/identity/culture through Zionist settler colonialism.”

The root of these lessons stems from California’s new “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” (ESMC), which passed in 2021 and mandates lessons on the marginalization of black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American peoples, emphasizing how they are oppressed by a white oppressor, says Brandy Shufutinsky, the director of education and community engagement for the Jewish Institute of Liberal Values.

“It’s a Trojan horse to institutionalize antisemitism in California schools,” Shufutinsky said.

Meanwhile, more than one million secondary school students in all 50 states are learning about history and the Middle East from the Brown University Choices Program. A strong pro-Palestinian bias shines through in the Brown teaching materials that are publicly available online. Israel, according to multiple lessons, is a “Zionist enterprise in Palestine,” an “apartheid state,” a “settler colony,” and “a military occupier.” (A Brown spokesperson told The Free Press, “Choices curriculum materials address the topic of antisemitism both historically and in terms of the contemporary threats and growing violence against Jewish people.”)

The Qatari Foundation International, an organization funded by Qatar’s ruling class, has purchased some of Brown’s materials and distributed them to 75 American teachers as well as sponsored a teacher training program in Wyoming, the spokesperson confirmed.

These ideas have profound consequences. A Harvard Harris poll from this month found that 67 percent of people aged 18 to 24 believe that “Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors,” compared to 44 percent of people aged 25 to 34; 24 percent of those aged 45 to 54; 15 percent of those 55 to 64; and 9 percent over 65 years who say the same.

In the New York City public school system, which educates more than one million students, the indoctrination began as far back as 2018, when it was codified in a new curriculum called the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework (CRSE), sources said. The CRSE seeks to mold students into citizens who “have a critical lens through which they challenge inequitable systems of access, power, and privilege.” 

While New York City’s CRSE does not explicitly refer to Jews or antisemitism, its teachings have led to a belief that “Jews have to be categorized as white and oppressors,” said Shufutinsky.

According to the oppressor vs. oppressed narrative, “the only reason Jews as a minority could be overrepresented in positions of prestige is because they must have oppressed somebody,” Shufutinsky said. “And if you accept that people who’ve achieved success only got it through ill gain, then of course, it’s going to fuel Jew-hatred.”

That hatred was on full display in the hallways of Hillcrest High School in Queens on the morning of November 20.

Hillcrest pupils, who discovered that a Jewish teacher at the school had supported Israel on her personal Facebook page, started spreading calls for a “raid” on their social media accounts. One student even commented that the teacher “is getting executed in the town square.” Suddenly, around 11 a.m., hundreds of students flooded the hallways chanting “Free Palestine” as the teacher barricaded herself in an office. Later, she released a statement to the media that she was “shaken to my core by the calls to violence against me”—and refused to comment further.

But another Jewish teacher, who has worked at Hillcrest for nearly 20 years, and who asked not to be named out of fear of losing his job, told The Free Press: “I’ve never seen anything like it. Because the teacher was Jewish, it feels like society doesn’t care. If there was a black teacher and students tried to corner her and beat her up because she’s black, you know very well how different the situation would be. There’d be riots. People would be fired. There’d be all sorts of sensitivity trainings.”

Almost to prove this point, when Chancellor David Banks, the man chosen by Mayor Eric Adams to lead the NYC Department of Education, held a press conference a week after the riot, he said the teacher was “never in direct danger” and the accusation of antisemitic violence in the hallways was “an example of misinformation being spread online.” 

On December 3, Banks added that Hillcrest had suspended “the ringleaders” of the riot. But three days later, a swastika and the message “Fuck Palestine,” scrawled in red marker, appeared on the wall of the lunch room at Hillcrest. A 15-year-old pupil was arrested and charged with aggravated harassment for the crime.

Adults have been actively encouraging some of the recent student protests at NYC schools. On October 25, a public school teacher from Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women skipped class with a group of about 20 high school girls to attend a pro-Palestine protest in Washington Square Park. One student at the demonstration, who had a Palestinian flag painted on her face, held up a sign with two hands that read “Please Keep the WORLD Clean” and showed the image of a blue Jewish star in a trash bin. 

On November 9, both teachers and parents helped organize more than 700 students from 100 public schools from across New York City to join in a mass walkout in Bryant Park. One teacher identified only as Brittany talked to CBS News as she marched alongside her pupils. “We teach our students about social justice,” Brittany said. “If we can’t act on what we are teaching our students, then what are we doing?”

Before that protest, a Brooklyn school board, staffed with elected parents, distributed an 11-page “Day of Action Toolkit” to students, telling them how to plan their walkout and even providing slogans to chant, including lines like “We don’t want no Zionists here!” and “From the river to the sea.” 

The guide for protest chants put together with help from Brooklyn school board CEC 14 ahead of New York City public school students’ planned walkout on November 9.

Sagit Shir, an Israeli-born mother of two daughters in the Brooklyn school district, said the latter slogan is a “statement in the Hamas charter. This is not exactly a peaceful message.” 

Shir said she’s critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, even though both she and her husband were injured in a Hamas suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv in 2003. But she doesn’t understand why the school board is “promoting a strong one-sided stance.”

“Why is this divisive message being pursued instead of one of unity and coming together in these tough times?” she asked.

Despite warnings from Chancellor Banks that “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”—as stipulated in their code of conduct—none of the teachers who’ve walked out with their students have been punished, sources told The Free Press. A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the department “addressed” the October 25 incident but stated they were unaware of any other reports of teachers joining students in protests. 

Karen Feldman, who has taught middle school in New York City for 25 years and specializes in Holocaust education, said these hateful displays have led to a “poisoning of our education system” that is beyond repair. 

“How do you really promote diversity, equity, and inclusion when you have the leaders of equity trained on propaganda that promotes antisemitism and ultimately, they bring it into the classrooms?” 

Donalda Chumney, a former superintendent of District 2 who is not Jewish, told me that within the Department of Education, Jews “fade into whiteness, in a way that makes whiteness a monolith.” 

“It’s almost as though they don’t exist.” 

While principles of New York City’s “culturally responsive” curriculum are now being taught in public schools across the country—from New Jersey to Illinois and soon Minnesota—some public school students are getting unauthorized lessons about the Middle East. 

On December 6, in Oakland, California, for example, at least 70 teachers held a “teach-in” to students in the district, using materials recommended by National Students for Justice in Palestine. One presentation, entitled “Palestine 101,” states that the first Intifada, which killed 1,000 Palestinians and over 100 Israelis, was “mostly non-violent resistance.” 

Lessons like these are particularly insidious when they’re taught to very young, impressionable students, said Andrew Goldberg, the parent of a middle schooler and a filmmaker who produced Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations. “Middle school is an age where kids start experimenting with racism, bigotry, and bad language,” Goldberg said. “And schools are not equipped to handle it and they don’t address it, particularly antisemitism, because they don’t understand it.” 

One Jewish mother told The Free Press how her middle school–aged son was subjected to antisemitic bullying two years ago at the public Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy in the Bronx. It started, she said, with his peers giving him the Nazi salute when they passed him in the halls. Then, in the months leading up to his bar mitzvah last November, classmates created a Snapchat group where they bombarded her son with antisemitic memes, which she shared with The Free Press, including swastikas and a picture of Hitler next to the message “when you see your gas bill.” Another showed her son with a Hitler mustache scribbled over his face and a red swastika drawn in the top left corner. 

One of the messages sent via Snapchat to a Jewish middle school student at Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy in the Bronx last fall.

The abuse went on for over a month before the mom found out and reported it to the school’s principal, she said. But she was scared of the repercussions for speaking up. 

“I didn’t want to be the poster child in Riverdale of standing up to antisemitism,” she said. “I just really wanted this to stop.” 

She asked the school to instruct the students on antisemitism and why their actions were wrong.

“That, as far as I’m aware, was not done,” she said. The principal of Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy did not respond to a Free Press request for comment.

At the end of the school year, she pulled her son out of the public school in the Bronx and enrolled him in a different high school in Westchester, closer to her work.

“I didn’t want him to have to stay there any longer than he needed to,” she said.

Andrew Goldberg, the filmmaker, described how his 11-year-old was also targeted with antisemitic taunts. This past fall, he said, a fellow sixth-grade student at a public school in Westport, Connecticut, leaned toward his son as they were leaving class and said, “Hey, I have a fun camp for you. It has great showers. Camp Auschwitz.”

He then added that another Jewish classmate “has already joined.” 

Months later, the same student jeered at Goldberg’s son in the hallways, yelling and laughing, “We must exterminate the Jews!” 

But after Goldberg and his wife complained to the principal and superintendent of the school, the officials responded with a “support plan,” reviewed by The Free Press, which mainly recommended his son “try a new table at lunch.” Nothing in the plan referenced antisemitism. 

Goldberg said he and his wife felt they had no option but to take their son out of public school and enroll him in a private Jewish day school. Through a lawyer, they asked Westport Public Schools to help pay their child’s tuition, and the district agreed—but only if the Goldbergs would sign a nondisclosure agreement swearing them to secrecy, he said. 

The Goldbergs refused. 

“We viewed this as hush money,” Goldberg said.

Westport Public Schools did not return calls from The Free Press for comment.

Almost two dozen Jewish parents of public school students ranging from elementary school to high school told me they’re scared for their kids due to a rise in antisemitism after October 7. 

One mother told me through tears how she instructed her daughter to hide her Jewish star necklace—which she received as a present for her bat mitzvah in Israel this summer—and not to tell people that she’s Jewish if someone asks her on the street. 

“I’ve said things to her that someone would have told my family in the 1940s,” she said. “This is lunacy. This is New York City in 2023.” 

Another mother told me she is now thinking about pulling her two sons out of Townsend Harris High School in Queens—one of the best in the country—and enrolling them in private school because of antisemitic bullying. 

Last year, she said, one of her eldest son’s peers told him during gym class to “go die in the Holocaust.” 

And then she said her youngest son, a freshman at the school, was targeted by a teammate on his varsity badminton team.

On November 26, the teammate posted a photo of the badminton squad on Instagram that showed everyone’s face except her son’s, the sole Jewish member of the team, whose face was covered by a Palestinian flag. 

The image of a Jewish freshman, face covered by a Palestinian flag, which was circulated by one of his badminton teammates at Townsend Harris High School in Queens via Instagram. (The Free Press has blurred out the other youths’ faces.)

The mother said she emailed the principal twice and waited an entire week before he replied and said he would report it as a “possible bias incident” to the Department of Education. When The Free Press reached out to the principal, he declined to comment further.

“Social media has made them feel like they can say and do whatever they want, and we have a culture where there are no consequences,” the mother told The Free Press.

Another mom called Sarah said her children go to two separate public schools where antisemitic graffiti has appeared since October 7. Swastikas were found in the bathroom of West End Secondary on the Upper West Side, and messages like “Free Palestine” and “Long Live Hamas” were scrawled on the bathroom walls of Hudson Cliffs, a K–8 school in Washington Heights. 

She said the schools don’t know how to deal with the problem. Neither school’s officials replied to Free Press requests for comment.

“I just want them to look me in the eye and have them tell me my baby is safe at school,” she said. 

Jewish public school teachers in NYC who talked to The Free Press said that they, too, had been the victims of antisemitic treatment from students and fellow educators well before October 7, but also after 2018 when the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework was first established.

Karen Feldman, the 25-year teaching veteran who works at an Upper East Side middle school she doesn’t want to name, recalls having to take part in a newly programmed equity training five years ago that literally split up the faculty by “White” and “non-White” groups and segregated them into different rooms.

As a Jew, she said she didn’t feel she fit into either. 

“It just felt weird,” she told me. “It felt like my voice as a Jewish woman, as a Holocaust survivor’s grandchild, was not included.” 

These sessions used to happen once a month, she said. Now, they happen weekly. 

Since 2018, Feldman said she has dealt with multiple acts of graffiti at her school, including one instance where a student scribbled “Gews [sic] suck dick” in the boys’ bathroom. She also said she has overheard students use antisemitic slurs—including one who claimed Jews “killed Palestinian babies.” Last spring, during a group work session in her class, Feldman said one of her students asked another: “What should we do with these dirty Jews?” in front of two Jewish classmates. According to Feldman, the other student responded: “I know, we should put them in the oven.”

Graffiti found in the bathroom of Karen Feldman’s middle school on the Upper East Side from the 2021–2022 school year.

Feldman said one of the Jewish student’s mothers was so upset she pulled her son out of the school.

In one instance last May, Feldman said a group of around 10 students surrounded her in the schoolyard, almost like they were driven by a “mob mentality,” pushing and throwing candy at her, chanting that she was a “Trump supporter.” She said she later found out the kids did it on a “dare” because they believed Jews supported Trump.

But Feldman told me her school administration didn’t respond to these incidents with outcries or condemnations of antisemitism—just bureaucratic box-checking to shield themselves from legal liability. The school brought in a “restorative justice coordinator” who, according to Feldman, engaged the students “in a discussion on why they didn’t like me.” 

Also last spring, when a student drew a swastika on a Snapchat picture that he shared with members of the class, the school’s dean asked Feldman whether or not he should report it. 

“I told him, ‘Of course you need to report it. It’s one of the worst hate symbols in the world,’ ” Feldman said. “It’s just as bad as seeing a noose.”

In the wake of the riot at Hillcrest High School, the federal department of education has launched a probe into the NYC Department of Education for possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which protects students from discrimination, due to accusations of “antisemitism, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and other forms of discrimination and harassment.” 

But later, Chancellor Banks admitted to CBS News New York, “They’re not launching an investigation into our entire system, they’re just following up on a complaint that someone made that perhaps there was an act of antisemitism.” The Department of Education refused to give further comment to The Free Press

Earlier this month, Banks and his team of administrators ignored invites from the Israeli consulate and the NYC Parent Alliance to watch a screening of the Hamas attack, to better understand “where our pain is coming from,” said Victoria Averbukh, a member of the alliance.

She said the chancellor’s lack of response made her feel like “Jews are again being ignored,” Averbukh told The Free Press. “They say great things when it comes to press conferences,” she said of the Department of Education, “but when it comes to action it’s complete apathy. And apathy fits into antisemitism and anti-Jewish hate.”

Moshe Spern, a special education department leader in the Department of Education, who is Jewish, added that until any actual changes are made, he doubts Jewish students will feel protected. 

“Until we know for sure these things will be acted upon properly, I would not recommend someone send Jewish students to public school today,” he said. 

Meanwhile, schools that allow students to be treated differently because of their ethnic group could face legal action, said Devon Westhill, a civil rights lawyer and the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. “You are going to be subjected to serious liability if you are treating students differently based on their race, based on their color or their national origin,” he said.

This even applies to how kids are taught. “Trying to train students that because of race or because of color, or because of national origin, some of the students in the class are better than others or are oppressors or bad or good” could all be grounds for a suit, Westhill said. 

But Karen Feldman, the veteran educator, is worried about the damage already done. In 2022, she notes, the National Education Association—the largest labor union in the United States, made up of over three million educators—passed a resolution to “support members who educate students and other members about the history, geography, and current affairs of the Palestinian people.”

When that happened, she remembers thinking, “This is going to give teachers the green light to teach that terrorism is a form of freedom fighting.”

Now, she says, “I definitely feel our future is at stake. I know it sounds a little radical but I see the brainwashing.” 

She compared it to the Nazis’ “propaganda education, which played a major role in brainwashing the public, especially the youth.”

“It became embedded in every facet of society, from children’s games to books to stories on the news. I believe if we keep going on this trajectory, we could potentially be at a level where you have the youth doing everything that they are directed to based on this propaganda. And that’s a scary thought.”

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story stated that the Brown Choices program accepts funding from Qatar via the Qatari Foundation International (QFI). A Brown spokesperson later told The Free Press that QFI does not fund the creation of the material itself. But QFI has sponsored Brown Choices courses, which Brown Choices has advertised.

Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on Twitter (now X) @FrancescaABlock. For more on antisemitism in our schools, read Jackson Greenberg’s piece “The Unconscientious Objectors about how his progressive private education in Philadelphia left his peers morally confused.

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