Chappaqua Schools Criticized for Muted Response to Anti-Semitic Incident

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The Town of New Castle’s Holocaust and Human Rights Committee called out the Chappaqua School District last week for failing to acknowledge that a flyer hung at Horace Greeley High School was anti-Semitic.

Committee Co-chair Alexandra (Ali) Rosenberg as well as three students from the high school’s E.N.O.U.G.H. (Educating Now on Understanding Genocide and Hate) and another parent raised deep concerns at last Thursday’s Board of Education meeting regarding how the poster, or postcard as district officials referred to it, appeared at the school last Tuesday and used anti-Semitic tropes and imagery in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Posted by a student, the images, which appeared in two separate pieces, each about eight-and-a-half by 11 inches, contained a political cartoon that stated “Israel 75 Years of Apartheid!” with people huddled behind barbed wire and holding a Palestinian flag. The illustrated image also contained a Star of David.

In the second flyer, it referred to the 75th Nakba commemoration, which was last Monday, and recognizes the displacement of Palestinians when Israel was created in 1948. It cited statistics about the number of Palestinians killed and displaced since then and how there are 1.5 million Palestinians living as refugees today.

The speakers who addressed the issue at last week’s board meeting stated that the district’s response to the community neglected to acknowledge that the imagery was anti-Semitic or hateful.

“Anti-Semitism needs to be identified when it happens and it can’t be called something else, and again, it shouldn’t have been called something else because it’s anti-Semitic and for many, many different reasons,” Rosenberg said when contacted over the weekend. “When an anti-Semitic incident occurs, just like an incident surrounding racism occurs, there should be education surrounding that to educate and to understand why anti-Semitism is so harmful.”

In a May 17 letter to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman, high school Principal Dr. Sandra Sepe and the Board of Education, the committee said the illustration was “Holocaust misappropriation,” which is a form of anti-Semitism.

The letter also referenced the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 2021 definition of anti-Semitism, “which might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” and “frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for why things go wrong.”

Resident Warren Gottlieb, the parent of two high school students, said this wasn’t the first time his children and others have experienced anti-Semitism in Chappaqua schools. But the failure of the district to include the words anti-Semitism, Jewish, Jew, hate or bias was a serious shortcoming on its part, he said.

“The district cannot bury anti-Semitism and that is exactly what yesterday’s e-mail does,” Gottlieb said. “The flyers use Holocaust imagery to effectively call for an end to the Jewish state. That is anti-Semitism, that is hate.”

At last week’s board meeting, district officials said they consulted their attorney because what was posted fell into the realm of political speech, which is protected.

Board member Hilary Grasso said political speech can also be anti-Semitic, which she felt was the case here.

“It doesn’t change the fact that it’s political in a way that in a public school district we have to treat political speech,” Grasso said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it is also anti-Semitic and when I opened (images of) the postcards, particularly that first image, it was clearly invoking Holocaust imagery.”

Ackerman said that under its policies in dealing with a student the district acted appropriately, although she acknowledged that it can always do better. She thanked the town’s Holocaust and Human Right Committee and the students from E.N.O.U.G.H. for stepping forward to collaborate on how the district can improve.

“I know that doesn’t feel acceptable to some of our families and some of our students and I completely understand that, but we’ll work together the best that we can moving forward to create an environment where everyone feels welcome because that’s the expectation that everyone should have who goes to school here and works here,” Ackerman said. “So you have that commitment from us.”

Rosenberg said since last week’s correspondences with the district were positive. She said the parties understand that education about anti-Semitism is crucial as well as the dangers of failing to address it.

“We have a duty to stand up against all forms of anti-Semitism,” Rosenberg said. “History has shown us the dangerous consequences of anti-Semitism being realized.”

Nada Khader, executive director of the WESPAC Foundation, a Westchester-based social justice group, said several organizations collaborated to create the flyers. She said that WESPAC was neither responsible for posting it at the school nor directed anyone to do so.

However, Khader, a Horace Greeley High School graduate, viewed the image and information differently. While agreeing that the cartoon was a strong image, she did not view it as anti-Semitic but reflecting “the Palestinian experience.”

“(Israel) was created by displacing three-quarters of the indigenous population. That’s historical fact that the Jewish community needs to come to terms with, and in so many areas of our work the Jewish community is right there at the vanguard of social justice issues and it’s really appreciated,” Khader said. “We’re sort of asking them to be consistent with their values.”

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