LA Unified School District and “Learning About Islam and the Arab World”

LA Unified School District and “Learning About Islam and the Arab World”

Letter sent to LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner

July 18, 2018

Superintendent Austin Beutner
Los Angeles Unified School District
333 South Beaudry Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Dear Superintendent Beutner,

Since you are new to your position, you may not be aware that on October 19 and October 21, 2017, the LAUSD co-sponsored a continuing education workshop for K-12 teachers entitled “Learning About Islam and the Arab World.” Both were full-day workshops (8 am to 5 pm) held at the UTLA’s Helen Bernstein Professional Development Center.

We reviewed the workshop’s co-sponsoring organization—The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FORUSA)—as well as the workshop’s educational handouts, agenda, and presenter list. This examination made extremely clear that the entire agenda of the workshop was to religiously and politically indoctrinate teachers to promote a state of Palestine, Islam, and the Palestinian cause, while blatantly vilifying and polarizing Jews and Israel based on false history and statements, lies, and standard anti-Semitic canards.

For a more detailed overview, please see The Israel Group’s initial report located on our website.

Unfortunately, the workshop co-sponsored by LAUSD constituted a one-sided official condemnation of core Jewish religious beliefs and right of self-determination. It violated the rights of Jews under the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment, subjecting those involved to liability for damages. See Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 624 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir. 2010).

In addition, because one of the workshop’s day was held on a Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—the LAUSD inhibited the ability of observant Jews to attend. This scheduling decision further limited the Jewish perspective and ability to counter the propaganda and factually inaccurate statements about Israel at the workshop.

It should also be noted that The Israel Group learned that FORUSA and several presenters and educational content providers at the workshop are highly involved with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. California passed a law, Assembly Bill No. 2844 (codified at Public Contract Code Section 2010), forbidding government agencies (or companies doing business with California government agencies) from participating in any boycott of a sovereign nation, including Israel, which includes the BDS movement.

After The Israel Group publicized the workshop, Congressman Brad Sherman wrote to your predecessor, Superintendent King. Among other things, Congressman Sherman wrote:

  • “[The Workshop] material is not just false, but is anti-Semitic and should have raised immediate red flags with LAUSD.”
  • “It is quite alarming that taxpayer money was used to compensate LAUSD teachers who through no fault of their own, enrolled in courses that arm them with inaccurate information in their classrooms, and perpetuate ancient biases.”
  • “Additionally, I am concerned that LAUSD would promote an education program on the Middle East established by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FORUSA), an organization who openly supports Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a highly polarizing movement that singles out Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, and has led to anti-Semitic hostility. The BDS movement is adverse to the foreign policy of the United States.”

Congressman Sherman then wrote: “It is my understanding that ‘Learning About Islam and the Arab World’ has concluded and FORUSA must apply for a five-year renewal. LAUSD now must not only reject renewal for the workshop and sever ties with the organizer, but reform the process for approval of continuing education course material.” Emphasis added.

The Israel Group made several demands of the LAUSD, among them, to:

  • Not reschedule another workshop on this topic until a complete investigative review of the co-sponsoring organizations, presenters, educational information, and the entire vetting process has been completed;
  • Inform The Israel Group and the public at large about any LAUSD investigation and public discussions regarding this topic;
  • Implement safeguards and protocols to prevent similar future occurrences;
  • Require that both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict be properly represented in such workshops, rather than using only anti-Israel activists and organizations; and
  • Have the publicity, literature, and registration forms of future workshops clearly indicate that controversial topics that will be taught (such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), instead of insidiously hiding it from the public.

We also remind the LAUSD that pursuant to Section 2010 of the California Public Contract Code (“PCC 2010”), any state contract with a value of $100,000 or more requires a written certification that the contracting party does not have a discriminatory policy against a sovereign nation or people, such as Israel. The provider of the workshop, as a supporter of the so-called “BDS movement,” should be considered to have a discriminatory policy under PCC 2010. We ask that LAUSD review PCC 2010 and the specific certification requirements for contracts contained in Section 7.65(d) of

the California State Contracting Manual to ensure that LAUSD is in compliance with applicable state law whenever it enters into qualifying contracts in the future.

In sum, LAUSD is required to obtain certification from applicable contracting parties that they are not engaged in discriminatory boycotts against Israel.

To date, the only response The Israel Group has received regarding our demands was a letter (dated October 20, 2017) from Mr. Jefferson Crain, LAUSD Executive Officer of the Board, stating:

“[T]he District reiterated the reasons why the course was approved for inclusion as a salary-point class. It is important to note, evaluations received by Human Resources indicate the course received satisfactory ratings by participants.”

It has been some time since The Israel Group first brought this matter to LAUSD’s attention, but it hasn’t yet been rectified. We request that LAUSD favorably respond to this letter within 30 days. If this matter is not resolved to The Israel Group’s satisfaction, we are prepared to take all appropriate actions to remedy the situation.

Sincerely,

Jack Saltzberg
Founder and President
The Israel Group

CC:

Joseph Y. Avrahamy, Esq.
Stephen Cohen, Esq.
Daniel Edelman, Esq.
Marc Greendorfer, Esq.
Ilya Kosten, Esq.
Ben Rudin, Esq.
Shella Sadovnik, Esq.
Alana Yakovlev, Esq.

Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, Kenneth L. Marcus
Congressman Brad Sherman
Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Prof. Alan Dershowitz, Esq.
Brooke Goldstein, Esq.
Dr. Charles Jacobs
Prof. William A. Jacobson, Esq.
Morton Klein
Andrea Levin
Prof. Andrew Pessin

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education
Mónica García, Board President
Dr. George J. McKenna III
Scott Schmerelson
Nick Melvoin
Ref Rodriguez
Kelly Gonez
Dr. Richard Vladovic
Jefferson Crain, Executive Officer of the Board

Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti
Los Angeles City Attorney, Mike Feuer
Los Angeles City Controller, Ron Galperin
Los Angeles City Council:
Gilbert Cedillo
Paul Krekorian
Bob Blumenfield
David E. Ryu
Paul Koretz
Nury Martinez
Monica Rodriguez
Marqueece Harris-Dawson
Curren D. Price, Jr.
Herb J. Wesson, Jr.
Mike Bonin
Mitchell Englander
Mitch O’Farrell
Jose Huizar
Joe Buscaino