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NYC Panel on Jew-Hatred Ignites Controversy Over Exclusion of Jewish Representation and Distorted Data

Orlando Torres (L) Managing Director of Outreach and Racial Justice & Vanessa Ramos (R) Managing Director of Education at NYC CHR

A seminar given to New York City teachers and parents on how to address antisemitism contained historical errors, ignored the leading causes of anti-Jewish city hate crimes, and was given by non-Jewish presenters, leaving Jewish attendees feeling disappointed and unrepresented.

The event, entitled “Understanding Jewish Experiences and Antisemitism,” was created by the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and presented via Zoom Thursday, as part of a series on addressing bias and hate.

Teachers and other attendees said that Thursday’s event showed far less sensitivity than a Feb. 20 seminar held by the CHR to deal with Islamophobia.

Unlike the seminar aimed at addressing anti-Muslim hatred, which was presented by two Muslim speakers and was followed by a question and answer session, Thursday’s speech was given by two non-Jewish speakers with no follow-up question and answer session. While the anti-Islamophobia seminar was held in conjunction with the Islamic Center at New York University, Thursday’s antisemitism event by the CHR was nearly identical to a seminar created solely by the CHR a year ago, according to a teacher who spoke with Hamodia, despite CHR listing Wagner College’s Holocaust Center as a collaborative partner in Thursday’s event.

The Center did not return Hamodia’s request for comment.

“They didn’t change anything, even after getting negative feedback,” the teacher said. “Today was just a way for NYC Public Schools and FACE [Family and Community Engagement] to check a box!”

When last year’s seminar was screened to 7th graders at Wagner Middle School in Manhattan (no affiliation with the college), which had seen an uptick in antisemitic incidents, students mocked the slides and threw pencils at the monitor, the teacher related.

The recording of Thursday’s seminar, obtained by Hamodia, showed that despite the explosion of antisemitic incidents related to Israel and its war against the Hamas terror group since the October 7 massacre, one of the presenters, Vanessa Ramos, Managing Director of Education at NYC Commission of Human Rights, said that the seminar will not touch on Middle East issues.

While she acknowledged “pain and suffering” in the Middle East in her opening remarks, Ramos said “we cannot solve global conflicts in this venue. We are going to focus on discrimination in this city and protections under the city human rights law.” However only two incidents of antisemitic attacks in the U.S. were mentioned, one being in New Jersey.

The Feb. 20 video showed presenters telling attendees that “jihad” means “struggle,” and does not have a connotation of a holy war, ignoring its use by Hamas, ISIS and al-Qaeda and many Islamic sects both historically and currently to describe a war against non-believers. Attendees were also told not to “be afraid” of the phrase “Alla-h akhbar,” (G-d is great) despite its use during terrorist attacks.

During Thursday’s event, only one participant asked a question in the “chat box,” but did not receive an answer. Instead, the questioner was asked by organizers to provide his or her name, which had been listed as “Iphone.”

That question was regarding a statement made by the second presenter, Orlando Torres, Managing Director of Outreach and Racial Justice at the CHR, who read from a graph indicating that the population of Iraqi Jews went from 150,000 before 1948 to less than 5 currently. The questioner in the chat box asked “What happened to the Iraqi Jews?” and did not receive an answer, ignoring the fact that Iraq and most other Arab countries expelled around one million Sephardic Jews from their homes in 1948.

While the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, both examples of Christian antisemitism, were mentioned during the presentation, only two minor instances of Muslim antisemitism during the Middle Ages were mentioned, with no reference to modern day Muslim antisemitism and terrorism targeting Jews.

Torres inaccurately stated that “antisemitism is not anything new, it’s something that’s existed since the 1900’s (sic),” misreading a slide documenting an example of antisemitism in the 900s. Antisemitism is documented in the ancient world extensively, going back way before that example.

“Jews originated in Canaan/Israel/Judea, exiled by the Babylonian and Roman empires,” he said, but then stated the first migration was in 587 BCE and that Jews have been a “diasporic people living all across the world since that time.” This omits the fact that Jews had large communities in the land afterwards and continued living in small communities there throughout history.

When showing what he said were the origins of the Jewish people and where they traveled to in exile, Torres pointed to a map that did not show the borders of the land of Israel, or even Judea; it was a rendition of the entire Middle East and parts of Africa with lots of arrows.

Much attention was paid to antisemitism found in white supremacist circles, but no mention was made of hatred by other sects and religions, despite the fact that the seminar was said to speak of city experiences and almost all antisemitic assaults and attacks in New York City over the past few years have been perpetrated by minorities. Examples of “dehumanization” included racial inferiority promulgated by white supremacists, and the religious belief that Jews are “evil” without mention of black nationalists and extremist Muslim groups which say similar things, as was evident in the example brought by Ramos of the 2019 Jersey City shooting of a kosher supermarket by members of the Black Hebrew Israelite group, a black-supremacist organization.

Ramos admitted that there was an element of antisemitism outside of white supremacists and what she called the “right-wing,” which affects “regular” people, but only in terms of “micro-aggressions.”

“We have seen a sharp increase in antisemitism in the city,” Ramos said. “This is not just a right-wing issue, this is an issue that belongs to everyone. We hear people…regular person(sic) making insensitive statements, they’re called micro-aggressions, they can be intentional or unintentional, but they can hurt.”

A spokesperson for the DOE referred Hamodia’s questions about the choice of presenters to the CHR, who responded that the Commission’s outreach staff are well equipped and specifically trained to discuss the city’s Human Rights Law and the protections afforded to New Yorkers, but did not comment on the specific historical content or the omission of hate crimes perpetrated by minorities, Muslims or anti-Zionists.

“The workshop today was not presented by a Jewish person who can speak to Jewish experiences nor was there a collaboration with any Jewish educational organization,” one Jewish teacher who attended the conference told Hamodia. Jewish teachers who attended the seminar felt both presenters appeared to have no prior knowledge of the issues, and were “dispassionately reading off of note cards prepared by someone else, accompanied by graphs that were deceptive and purposefully never showed Israel.”

Teacher Tova Plaut, founder of NYCPS Alliance, a grassroots organization of educators and parents formed after Oct. 7 to address antisemitism in public schools, slammed the seminar.

“The presenters in the antisemitism workshop were not representative of the Jewish community, had no first hand knowledge of the effects of Jew hatred and antisemitism or the Jewish Experience in New York City,” Plaut told Hamodia. “The lack of Jewish voice, the erasure of Jewish history and the erasure of the Jewish experiences contribute and feeds into implicit bias against Jews.”

City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who introduced a passed resolution last year to establish a citywide “End Jew Hatred” day, said that the presenters were “woefully uneducated.”

“Is it really surprising that the city’s idea of an adequate ‘antisemitism seminar’ would be taught by woefully uneducated individuals who misrepresented our history and refused to allow any audience participation?” Vernikov told Hamodia. “The message is clear: the city doesn’t want to confront the antisemitic hatred that Jews are facing on a daily basis and would rather participate in a woke performance that claims ‘white supremacy’ is to blame.”

Some elements of the presentation were well received. In one section, Torres encouraged people to invite Orthodox Jews to speak at their organizations. Ramos spoke of solidarity and building unity between all communities in the city. “Jewish New Yorkers belong here; antisemitism does not,” read one slide.

One slide shown at the presentation read that the Orthodox community “has asked people not to use” the term Ultra-Orthodox, because it makes people sound extremist.

Torres Issued guidance on how to accommodate Orthodox Jews in a workplace environment, including an understanding that observant Jews do not shake hands with members of the opposite gender, only will eat wrapped, kosher food, and that they need time to pray, and mentioned some, but not all, Jewish holidays.

Oddly, Ramos ended by thanking the audience for “sharing their views” and stories, despite no one speaking aside from the presenters.

https://hamodia.com/2024/03/03/jewish-teachers-denounce-nyc-antisemitism-seminar-erasure-of-jewish-history-experience/