Open Letter to Mayor Setti Warren

Dear Mayor Warren,

In the three years since you took office, many of us have come to recognize your outstanding leadership and commitment to facing difficult decisions and doing what’s best for Newton citizens. We recall your door-to-door campaign, which symbolizes your personal approach, showing a sincere desire to understand our hopes for the city.

Unlike our national leaders, you have taken concrete steps and adopted rational policies that have actually streamlined government, cut waste, and promoted economic development.  Experts in administration and finance point to your CitiStat performance management system, the city’s 311 support system and to your zero-based budgeting approach. You have reduced municipal energy consumption and you are monitoring health insurance costs. Last year, on your watch, Moody’s Investors Service assigned an AAA  rating to the city’s $8 million General Obligation Bonds, and it affirmed the rating and stable outlook for the almost $2 million long term debt. Very good!

On March 12 Newton residents will vote on an $11.4 million dollar override package to  fund more police officers, build a new fire headquarters, repair roads and sidewalks, pay teacher salaries, and rebuild or renovate three elementary schools. Newton schools will receive the majority of the funds – to keep the school buildings in top condition, to maintain optimal class sizes and pay teachers the salaries they deserve so that they can maintain an educational system which is among the best in the nation.

But there is a problem with the schools that has not yet been addressed. We in the Jewish community were shocked to learn that the Newton public schools were penetrated by a Saudi-funded curriculum that, among other things, taught Newton students that Jews in Israel torture and murder Arab women in jails. The eminent and very liberal American Jewish Committee has investigated this Arab World Studies Notebook that was used to teach Newton students and found it to be a purposely poisonous effort to defame Jewish people in public schools. For over a year, Jewish parents and community members here have sought to understand how this hateful material penetrated a liberal and heavily Jewish community. We had to struggle for a year to get it taken out of the schools. We were ignored and rebuffed many times by Newton school authorities who seemed more focused on protecting their turf than serving Newton’s citizens. Only after a long, sometimes hostile battle with your school committee, did school officials finally agree to remove the material.

Mayor Warren, you know much of this because you attended at least one committee meeting and heard us plead with School Superintendent David Fleishman to stop dissimulating and to deal honestly with Jewish community. (Readers can watch the hearing at the video gallery on What we have asked for is really quite reasonable and consistent with open, transparent government process: explain to us how this happened, what steps are being taken to prevent it from occurring again, and help us warn other school districts against such efforts to defame Jews to American school children.

Sadly, what we got is a dishonest cover up. The Superintendent of the school system, who now is seeking additional millions of dollars from Newton ‘s hard working tax payers, and who the Boston Globe reports earns more that $250K/year, told us a lie. He said that the poisonous lesson was removed, not because it was a falsehood, a piece of propaganda meant to defame Jewish people, but because it was “outdated!”  Does hate have an expiration date? Would a fresher dose be acceptable?

We can all understand why a government agency that is supposed to serve the people circles the wagons.  Of course they fear being exposed as incompetent, insensitive… letting Saudi Jew-hating propaganda into a school system in liberal, progressive Newton.

Mayor Warren, it is important that your administration and especially the school committee, school superintendent, principals and teachers become aware of the longstanding well-funded campaign to defame Israel and its supporters through America’s public schools. Indeed Temple Emanuel, the largest Temple in Newton held a seminar on this topic two months ago, with experts from as far away as California who shocked the audience with example after example of anti-Israel “lessons” published in textbooks and – more difficult to review and block – handout materials and teacher workshops. It was through teacher workshops that the AWSN got into our schools: through Harvard University’s Center for Middle Studies outreach seminars for local teachers.  (Harvard has taken $20M donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal).

Mayor Warren, right next door in Watertown, an organization called “Primary Source” produces and distributes radical curricular materials that contain anti-Israel propaganda. Their reach extends to about 50 schools in Mass alone. Like Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies, they do not publish easy-to-challenge textbooks; instead they train teachers, conduct seminar courses and suggest teaching materials. Their treatment of Israel and her supporters (and that, by the way, would be most of your Jewish constituents) is simple Arabist/radical propaganda. They include books by Ilan Pappe, who has argued that Zionism is more dangerous than Islamic militancy, who says that the only racist state in the world is Israel, and suggests that Jews do not deserve to have a state.

Another book used by Primary Source is a graphic novel by Joe Sacco called “Palestine: A Nation Occupied which portrays the Jews of Israel as uniformed monsters that wantonly beat and slaughter helpless Palestinians. (Much like the “lesson” in Newton South.)

In addition to lies about Israel, students whose teachers take Primary Source courses may learn that the Muslims discoveredAmerica and that Al Qaeda and the American government are equally evil and violent.

Mayor Warren, it is disappointing to have school officials obfuscate the truth even when the errors were unintentional. We need school officials who can be role models to the children whose education they are responsible for. We need a school committee that protects students from bigotry and lies.

Given the documented and well-funded attempts to demonize the only Jewish state and its supporters, we need an oversight committee to insure educational integrity on our schools. We need trust between the schools and the parents based on openness and transparency. The parents, taxpayers and the general public have a right to see the educational materials used in the schools. If tax-payers provide nice, modern school buildings – these should be places that teach truth and decency – and the courage to speak inconvenient truths.

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