Middle East Monitor / January 13, 2020
There are growing concerns over the “weaponization of anti-Semitism” following the firing of a Jewish teacher by an elite New York City prep school for expressing remarks critical of Israel.
JB Brager, who had been a history teacher at the private school for 18 months, is believed to have been forced out after controversy had boiled over in the aftermath of a lecture at the school.
The controversy began in November when a speaker at the school, Kayum Ahmed, a lecturer at Columbia University Law School and a director at the Open Society Foundations, made comments observing the recurring historical theme of the way in which victims of oppression become victimisers.
Ahmed said that “xenophobic attacks are a shameful part of South African history, but in some ways, it reflects the fluidity between those who are victims becoming perpetrators.” In his comments analysing what looks to be a pattern of history, he went on to cite the injustice perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.
“The Jews suffered in the Holocaust and established the state of Israel. Today they perpetuate violence against the Palestinians that are unthinkable … so again, the victims of the Holocaust and violence have become perpetrators of violence against Palestinians,” said Ahmed. His comments were recorded on video and shared by pro-Israel groups.
Ahmed’s comments attracted the ire of pro-Israel activists. Their reaction to the remarks made during a school lecture triggered a response by Brager, who posted three tweets. “When institutions of ‘learning’ bow to political pressure to disavow historical reality, what can educators do within that institution?” asked Brager, who identifies as Jewish.
Local news agency the Riverdale Press reported that Brager backed the BDS campaign tweeting: “I support BDS (boycotts, divestments, sanctions) and Palestinian sovereignty, and I have for my entire life.” She also rejected Israel’s practice of racism saying “I refuse to reaffirm the value of ethnonationalist settler colonialism.”
A letter to Fieldston trustees protesting Brager’s firing accused the school of “weaponization of anti-Semitism”. The letter seen by MEMO, expressed “outrage” at Brager’s firing. “We see clearly that Fieldston administrators Jessica Bagby and Nigel Furlonge are not interested in addressing anti-Semitism or protecting Jewish community members, but in signaling to conservative Jewish donors that the school will punish dissenters from those donors’ views,” said the letter, which had been signed by 150 people.
The letter claimed that the controversy was another instance in the “weaponization of anti-Semitism” which “is the subject of a pitched battle within Jewish communities.” It named prominent American pro-Israel groups like the Anti-Defamation League for “attacking tens of thousands of young, progressive, and Orthodox Jews as ‘anti-Semites’.”
The school’s decision was described as “despicable” and of having “lent its strength to the side of this intra-community battle that supports Trump policies, endless wars, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism.”
According to Mondoweiss, Brager’s sacking is the second time in two years that a Jewish history teacher has been forced out of a private New York high school due to anti-Zionist statements. In 2018 long time history teacher Joel Doerfler is rep orted to have left the Riverdale Country School after administrators cancelled his class on the history of the conflict because of his questioning of the official narrative.
Their concerns were echoed in December by the author of a controversial definition of anti-Semitism who spoke out over its misuse and warned of its “chilling effect” on free speech. American attorney Kenneth Stern, who drafted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition of antisemitism,” warned that “rightwing Jews were weaponizing” it to supress criticism of Israel.