ZOA Greater Phila. Mobilizes Dozens to Speak at School Board Mtg. Against Anti-Jewish Display

Zionist Organization of America Greater Philadelphia Director Steven Feldman released the following statement: 

Residents of Lower Merion Township (suburb of Philadelphia) who are advocates for truth about the Middle East and for Israel – including many ZOA supporters – made their presence known and their voices heard at a Lower Merion School Board meeting on Monday, May 15, following a Greater Philadelphia ZOA Chapter Action Alert encouraging attendance and outcry in response to an anti-Jewish display filled with lies in a school there.

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein was among the speakers from the community, as were many ZOA members and others who addressed the board in protest of the egregious “Palestine” display. ZOA speakers demanded the board act to halt Jew-hatred in its schools, to apologize for and retract what school officials already permitted and to include ZOA participation in remedying the problem. 

“We are heartened and inspired by the large turnout at the school board meeting, and the concern and passion for Israel and the well-being of the Jewish community expressed by residents and ZOA members, said Steve Feldman, executive director of Greater Philadelphia ZOA. “We are especially grateful for the expression of support for ZOA by the residents who spoke – many of whom demanded that ZOA have a role in educating school faculty and staff about anti-Jewish activity as well as the real facts about events in the Middle East, the history of the region and the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish State and Jewish People.” 

In late March at the Gladwyne Elementary School, a family created a “Palestine” exhibit that school officials allowed the family to display at the school’s “Cultural Heritage Night.” It featured PLO flags, and posters asserting Jerusalem is the capital of “Palestine,” that “Palestine” is a country; and that the Israeli town of Rameh (about 20 miles west of the Kinneret) is in “Palestine.”

Of course there is no country called “Palestine;” Jerusalem is the capital of Israel as per United States law, and Rameh very clearly is in Israel in an area of the country that is uncontested by any decent person. 

In addition, the “Palestine” display highlighted an Arab singer whose songs include praising murderers of Jewish people and advocating for the destruction of Israel. There was also a poster highlighting the cartoon character “Handala” that is synonymous with the BDS movement and the so-called “Palestinian” “Resistance” – a euphemism for the destruction of Israel and the slaughtering of Jews. 

Lower Merion Township is an upper middle-class suburb just outside of Philadelphia. Lower Merion has a sizeable Jewish population including multiple Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations. 

When Greater Philadelphia ZOA learned about the exhibit we immediately wrote to the principal of the school, the acting superintendent of the school district and the nine members of the school board. In our letter we wrote in part: “We call on officials of Gladwyne Elementary School and the Lower Merion School District to disclaim their endorsement of the “Palestine” exhibit – which is implied since it took place in the school and was part of an official school event.  

“We further call on school and school district officials to invite ZOA to offer sensitivity training and corrective information to staff about Israel, Zionism and the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish People – and the consequences of that war on the Jewish People. 

“We also call on the school and the school district to institute guidelines to make sure that propaganda and misinformation asserting defamatory and dangerous claims and hate symbols against Jewish people are never again allowed on the premises of any school in the district. … 

“In a school – and especially for young, impressionable children – it is imperative that facts have primacy, and propaganda that seeks to delegitimize Jewish heritage and Israel by making false representations should have no place in your school district or at any school. 

“Schools should be a safe place free of hate symbols. The flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization is a hate symbol just as a Third Reich flag with a swastika is. It represents to Jews decades of murder and terrorism – bombings, airplane hijackings, shootings, people hacked with axes, stabbings and the like. Palestinian Arabs have even attacked Jewish people who were enjoying a Passover seder. And its Charter calls for armed struggle and Israel’s destruction.

“All told, this ‘Palestine’ exhibit at the school is both an affront and an attack against the Jewish People while it miseducates students.”

Acting Superintendent Megan Shafer replied, noting:  

“Your letter raises several valid concerns and will help inform the District in reviewing its policies and procedures regarding District review and oversight of third parties it permits to use its facilities. I appreciate your offer of assistance to serve as a resource and will share that offer with appropriate administrators, including our Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” But she also implied that “to build a sense of belonging” nothing about a family’s “culture” was off-limits. 

Greater Philadelphia ZOA followed up with a second letter, pointing out “The Palestinian Arab culture above all else has been predatory against the Jewish People. The historical record and contemporary events are clear about this.” Palestinians dance in the street, hand out sweets and launch fireworks when Jews are murdered by Palestinian Arabs. 

We asserted: “If young children are being taught things that are untrue and/or hateful at home, this must raise serious concerns in your school district. It seems clear to us that this is occurring. 

“… We state with certainty that the “Stars and Bars” flag of the Confederacy would not be allowed on school grounds – even if a student or a family expressed that such a flag was an element of their culture. Nor would celebrating lynchings, or slavery or any other element of such savagery be permissible or welcomed even with a “disclaimer” or as in keeping with “LMSD’s goal to build a sense of belonging for all students.” There was no response to that letter nor to multiple phone messages.

Unsatisfied with the lack of response and lack of action, Greater Philadelphia ZOA mobilized the community. 

Dozens of township residents waited for more than two hours until the board would hear public comment.

Among the more stirring speakers was ZOA’s Morton Klein. Klein said: “The mission of education here in Lower Merion, and elsewhere, should be promoting truth – not promoting hatred, lies and worse.” Klein noted that because the school permitted the “Palestine” display, it is “promoting a terrorist dictatorship which pays Arabs to murder Jews, glorifies Palestinian murderers by naming schools and streets after them and hangs thousands of posters in schools praising the Jew-killers.” 

“I’m asking you – urging you – as a child of Holocaust survivors who lost most of my family in the Holocaust, which began with lies and hatred and street violence against the Jews: In an era of rising antisemitism and physical attacks against Jews, I’m urging you to have Gladwyne Elementary School publicly apologize and retract this display and pledge to consult with ZOA and others before anything is promoted about the Middle East.” 

Immediately after Klein spoke, school district acting superintendent Shafer interrupted audience testimony. Reading from prepared remarks, she offered no apology or contrition. She acknowledged that the PLO flag outraged the community – but she seemed to deliberately ignore other false and anti-Jewish elements in the “Palestine” display. 

Shafer justified the label “Palestine” and the inclusion of the display because the United Nations accorded observer status to “Palestine.” Fact check: The United States government does not recognize “Palestine,” and the UN Security Council, which sets binding policy, has not recognized “Palestine.” 

Shafer noted that the school district will seek assistance on the issues – but that it would be from organizations that are soft on the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish People, plus unnamed “religious leaders.” The audience was vocally dismayed when Shafer neglected to include ZOA as an organization that would be participating. 

However, following the meeting, Morton Klein was invited to meet with acting Superintendent Shafer in the next few days.

Many in the audience who spoke after Shafer praised ZOA and demanded that ZOA be included in the discussions.  

The Zionist Organization of America and our Greater Philadelphia chapter vow to keep pressing this issue in the prestigious Lower Merion School District which include areas like Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Villanova, Bala Cynwyd and Gladwyne. ZOA will also fight for truth in other area school districts. We invite and encourage each of you to help us: Help be our eyes and ears. If you see or learn about any anti-Jewish or anti-Israel or anti-Zionist activity in any school – including PLO flags – or any misrepresentation of the Palestinian Arab war against Israel and the Jewish People, please let us know whether you are a parent, community member, teacher or student. It need not occur as part of a “Cultural Heritage Night.” It could be in a textbook, class, guest speaker or event. 

In addition, we strongly encourage you to be pro-active in combatting Jew-hatred and anti-Israel activity in schools. Meet or speak with school board members and school officials where you live. Make them aware of what is happening elsewhere and insist that they do everything possible to prevent it in the school or school district. Share with them ZOA fact sheets from our website about the actual history of the Middle East; what Israel and Zionism are – including Jewish rights and self-determination; and the many facets of the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish People including BDS, promoting false accusations about “occupation” and “apartheid,” and the denial and delegitimization of Jewish heritage and history. 

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