NYC Schools Chief: ‘Qataris Write the Check’ For Brooklyn School
NYC schools chancellor David C. Banks testifies before Congress. (Photo via X)

NYC Schools Chief: ‘Qataris Write the Check’

But insists the Gulf state has ‘no impact on the curriculum.’

The Brooklyn teacher who put an anti-Israel map in her classroom bought it in Jerusalem with her own money, the NYC schools chief told members of Congress last week.

“That’s what she told us,” chancellor David C. Banks testified at a hearing into antisemitism in public schools Wednesday. “It was not part of the resources that came from the Qatari foundation.”

The Free Press first reported that the Qatar Foundation International (QFI) has pumped more than $1 million into the NYC Department of Education from 2019 to 2022, including at Brooklyn’s PS 261, where the organization funded an Arab Culture Arts program taught by Rita Lahoud. Lahoud posted a map of the Middle East that replaced Israel with “Palestine,” and in April 2023, a QFI rep tweeted a photo of the map with the caption, “We love seeing #Arabic classroom decorations!” After The Free Press broke the story, a DOE spokesperson said the map had been taken down. A feature about Lahoud’s work—which used to appear on QFI’s website—has since been deleted.

QFI is the American wing of the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit owned by the ruling family of the wealthy Arab state, which has harbored leaders of the terrorist group Hamas. 

But “that map was not the result of the Qatar Foundation,” insisted Banks at the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. “That individual teacher bought that map on her own with her own resources when she was in Jerusalem.” Lahoud, who still works at PS 261, did not reply to a Free Press request for comment. 

Banks added, “That foundation has had no impact—they write the check—they’ve had no impact on the curriculum that’s been developed and how it’s been implemented.” 

When an incredulous Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked him if “other countries donate significant sums to New York City Public Schools,” Banks replied, “I would have to get back to you on that.” A spokesperson for the DOE later told The Free Press the department had also accepted a $16,000 donation from the Korean Consulate and $257,000 from the Italian American Committee on Education, which is connected to the Italian government. 

Banks appeared alongside K–12 education officials from Maryland’s Montgomery County and Berkeley, California, where antisemitic incidents have also plagued their districts—including classroom material that framed the chant “from the river to the sea” as a call for “freedom and peace.” He was also quizzed about an antisemitic riot at Hillcrest High School in Queens last November, where students targeted a pro-Israel teacher on social media with one commenter calling her a “cracker ass bitch.”

Banks told the committee he had “removed” Hillcrest principal Scott Milczewski from his position, though he later admitted Milczewski had not been fired but instead moved into an administrative position as director of teaching and learning at the DOE.

“How can Jewish students feel safe at New York City public schools if you can’t even manage to terminate the principal of ‘Open Season on Jews High School’?” asked Brandon Williams, a representative from New York. “How can Jewish students go to school knowing he is still on your payroll? Your payroll, sir.” 

“I know whose payroll it is,” Banks replied. “It’s not open-season-on-Jews school. It’s called Hillcrest High School. And at that school, we considered his leadership not strong enough to be the leader in that school.” 

Tova Plaut, who heads a group of Jewish NYC public school teachers called the New York City Public Schools Alliance, said she found Banks’s testimony “disappointing.” 

“He was very combative,” said Plaut, who sat behind Banks during the hearing. “He didn’t really take accountability for what’s happening.” 

Regardless of who bought the map at PS 261, Plaut believes the DOE shouldn’t accept money from Qatar. 

“I certainly don’t believe that any foreign government that supports terrorism or is not a democratic society should be allowed to contribute to our educational system,” she said. 

Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Read her piece “Exclusive: Columbia Custodian Trapped by ‘Angry Mob’ Speaks Out” and follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @FrancescaABlock

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