A New York City public school is being accused of “Jewish erasure” after a map from one of its classrooms surfaced showing all the countries of the Middle East except Israel, which is labeled “Palestine.”
The Free Press was shown a photo of the map of the “Arab world,” hanging in the art classroom at PS 261, a public elementary school in Brooklyn. Rita Lahoud uses the classroom to give lessons to pre-K and elementary students in the “Arab Culture Arts” program, which is funded by Qatar Foundation International (QFI). QFI is the American wing of the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit owned by the ruling family of the wealthy Arab state, which harbors leaders of the terrorist group Hamas.
Tova Plaut, a New York City public school instructional coordinator for pre-K through fifth grade classrooms, said she found the map “concerning.”
“It’s not just that we’re experiencing Jewish hate in NYC public schools, we’re actually experiencing Jewish erasure,” Plaut said. “And here is proof of that.”
Rita Lahoud did not respond to an email seeking comment. The principal of PS 261 deferred comment to the Department of Education.
After The Free Press emailed the Department of Education to ask if the map remains in the classroom after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, a spokesperson wrote back: “Why would it not be?”
Nathaniel Styer, the DOE spokesperson, added in his reply that “this is a map of countries that speak Arabic.”
Around two million people living in Israel are Arab, which is just over 20 percent of the country’s population. Many of them speak Arabic.
The emergence of the map comes after a Free Press investigation showed how educators in American public schools are increasingly teaching students to hate Jews. One curriculum—the Brown University Choices Program—which presents ideas of Israel being an “apartheid state” and “a military occupier” taught to one million public school students nationwide, has been distributed by QFI.
QFI first posted a photo of the map at PS 261 on X (formerly Twitter) in April 2023 with the comment: “We love seeing #Arabic classroom decorations!” The colorful map, manufactured by Arab education company Ruman, purportedly shows all the countries of northern Africa and the Middle East, with photos of landmarks in each nation. At PS 261, the map is posted under the header “Arab World” with hand-drawn labels marking each nation. But the space nestled between Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt—where Israel has been a state since 1948—is marked “Palestine,” despite the fact there is no internationally recognized Palestinian state. The Instagram account for Ruman is filled with posts decrying Israel’s violence in Palestine.
“The fact that there is a map out there that does not represent what the world actually looks like is troubling. We’re giving children misinformation,” said Plaut, who is also the founder of the New York City Public Schools Alliance, a group of educators and parents formed in the wake of October 7 to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate in NYC public schools.
Shortly after The Free Press reached out to NYC’s Department of Education for comment on Wednesday, QFI’s post showing the map at PS 261 was removed from X.
Meanwhile, The Free Press has found that QFI has donated over $1 million to the NYC Department of Education from 2019 to 2022.
QFI started donating to the NYC Department of Education in 2015, according to public disclosure forms. In 2019 and 2020, QFI gave more than $241,000 to fund dual language Arabic programs for PS 261 and PS 30, a K–8 school in Brooklyn. In 2021, QFI paid over $275,000 to the NYC Department of Education, and in 2022 that number rose to more than $513,000—but forms for these last two years do not specify how the funds were allocated. Records for 2023 are not yet publicly available.
QFI did not respond to a request for comment from The Free Press Wednesday afternoon.
Last month, The Free Press reported how public school students as young as three and four are given pro-Palestinian lessons. One pre-K teacher, Siriana Abboud, hung a poster outside her classroom at PS 59, a public elementary school in Manhattan, showing how a person’s ethnicity is connected to the shape of their nose.
Plaut told The Free Press on Wednesday that the “Arab World” map found at PS 261 is an “example of how you embed implicit bias into children.”
“What it does is it creates this inner instinctive knowledge that they internalize that this land belongs to the Arab world; that it does not belong to anyone else,” Plaut said. “When you embed something when children are young it becomes a belief. And belief is much harder to change than knowledge.”
UPDATE: After The Free Press published this story on January 11, the Department of Education’s Nathaniel Styer said the map had been taken down. “We are committed to fostering a welcoming environment here at NYCPS that supports all cultures and communities,” he said. “As soon as we were made aware of concerns regarding the map it was removed.”
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