The Ithaca, New York, public school system in recent days released heavily redacted documents surrounding a controversial presentation given in September to a third-grade class by anti-Israel activists, raising suspicions even further that the event was a skewed, one-sided indoctrination effort on impressionable children.
The conservative blog Legal Insurrection has been trying to obtain documents and videos connected to the visit to the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School by Bassem Tamimi, once convicted of soliciting youths to carry out stone-throwing attacks against Israelis.
After filing a request under the Freedom Of Information Law (similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act), these were some of the not-very-revealing items produced:
This almost completely blacked-out email was among the redacted documents the Ithaca City School District sent the Legal Insurrection blog in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. (Image courtesy: Legal Insurrection)
"[S]ome documents were so heavily redacted as to be meaningless," William Jacobson, the Cornell University law school professor who runs the Legal Insurrection blog and first reported on the third grade event, wrote.
Another heavily redacted document left a few sentences visible, but they stated only previously known facts about the visit, including that a local woman sharply critical of Israel had been invited who in turn invited Tamimi.
One nearly complete email that was released revealed that the school superintendent concluded that the event had been “not good” for the class.
“Irrespective of what has been shared with you by some parents or others who were present … I know exactly what transpired on September 18th. What happened in the 3rd grade class you reference was not good for our learners,” Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District Luvelle Brown wrote in response to someone who apparently had reached out to him.
Legal Insurrection reported that the Freedom of Information request revealed that one of the videos shown the class had a member of the Tamimi clan, identified as Janna Jihad Tamimi, accusing Israelis of being “terrorists.”
In the propaganda video originally disseminated by the Palestinian Information Center, the younger Tamimi said in broken English, “Israel kill us, killed Gaza, killed Palestinian. … We don’t like them to be terrorists.”
Legal Insurrection reported that the school district did not produce as part of the document handover a video taken by the anti-Israel activists at the event.
The blog said it intends to challenge the withholding of the video in court, if necessary.
However, the Ithaca School District did release a partial transcript of one of the videos taken in the classroom, which appeared to show a clear effort at indoctrinating the primary school children.
According to the transcript, one of the anti-Israel activists told the children, “The United Nations makes laws around what people can do, what countries can do, and many times Israel violates these laws and that is what we’re working for, that’s what Bassem is working for.”
After Tamimi alleged that Israelis had destroyed a Palestinian flag in his village, a student said, “When I grow up I’m going to Palestine and protest.”
To which Tamimi said, “Welcome, welcome.”
Tamimi also said, “You can be freedom fighters for Palestine.”
School and district officials had previously released conflicting statements about the event, spurring Jacobson to apply for concrete documentation in the form of emails and videos.
The school initially said the event was “in keeping with the third-grade curriculum standard to study human rights.” However, the superintendent later said the presentation was “politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.”
Tamimi's family is well-known among Middle East watchers for its activism, which includes apparently encouraging children to confront Israeli soldiers for news cameras, rock-throwing and social media posts glorifying violence against Israelis.
“This event is a microcosm of a larger problem in education. We know about anti-Israel bias at the university faculty level. But we now know that there are efforts to indoctrinate even third graders,” Jacobson wrote at Legal Insurrection.
Read more about the document release at Legal Insurrection.