New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are under fire from several Jewish organizations for not responding publicly to a school incident that has left Jewish students and parents unnerved.
A “moment of silence” was held at the Beacon School, a college-preparatory public high school on West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan, for “Palestinian victims” associated with weekly protests at the border fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. The school is known for its elite admissions process with students represented from all five boroughs, though the majority come from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
A report by The Forward noted that a majority of the school’s students are Jewish, and many are sympathetic to the “underdog” Palestinian narrative, which has been exacerbated as a result of their “March of Return” protests that have occurred since March 30. One Jewish student told the paper he supported the moment of silence, complaining that it was parents who were raising objections, rather than his fellow students.
The moment of silence took place on May 15 and was first reported in the New York Post the following Saturday, which noted that Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president Mort Klein had sent a letter to the Beacon School demanding an apology.
Klein told The Jewish Link that it was school parents who initially raised concerns and asked ZOA for assistance and advocacy with the Beacon administration. However, he noted that the school administration has made no public response. “At this point, we are waiting to see what happens,” he said. Klein added that he has been “pleading” with ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) to take a stand on this. “Why are they having a moment of silence for Jew killers? I have called ADL and alerted them to the situation and are waiting for them to come out with a statement. I hope they will publicly respond,” he added.
The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), a rabbinic organization, was another early objector to Beacon’s moment of silence. “There are no two ways about it; claiming that Hamas operatives are ‘victims’ is to say that killing Jews is a peaceful activity,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the coalition. “Hamas members approached the border with guns, knives and maps of Israeli civilian communities on the other side, responding to calls by their leaders to ‘tear down the border and … tear out [Jews’] hearts from their bodies.’”
The National Council of Young Israel has now joined ZOA and CJV in protest, sending a letter to the mayor and schools chancellor urging them to take action and hold the school accountable.
While some fatalities and injuries have been reported in the first six weeks of protests, the situation escalated on May 14, the day the new U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem. Hamas, which oversees the Gaza Strip, encouraged tens of thousands of terror-group members and Gaza residents to mass at the border—with Molotov cocktails, slings and rocks, wire-cutters and incendiary devices—even though the Israel Defense Forces warned Palestinians to stay away. The result was the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire, with 62 Palestinians killed that day and as many as 2,000 wounded.
Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader, told Palestinian TV on May 16 that 50 of the 62 killed in Gaza were Hamas members, and Islamic Jihad claimed credit for another three; those killed were terrorists who incite violence, not its victims.
Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, told JNS that “public-school students should in no way feel compelled to participate in an anti-Israel protest, and the fact that the school’s leadership facilitated this tribute to terrorists is inexcusable. The students who were subjected to this troubling tribute deserve an apology, as does the greater Jewish community.”
“Honoring the memory of terrorists who seek to destroy Israel, which is the United States’ sole democratic ally in the Middle East, is reprehensible and smacks of anti-Israel animus and anti-Semitism,” wrote Weiss, who signed the letter along with Young Israel First Vice President Dr. Joseph Frager and National Council of Young Israel Executive Director Rabbi Marc S. Volk.
“To make matters worse, the Beacon School unnecessarily made several of its Jewish students terribly uncomfortable in an academic environment in which these young men and women are supposed to feel safe and insulated from such blatant animosity and antipathy,” continued Weiss. “Paying tribute to terrorists cannot and should not be categorized as civic engagement or activism, and the fact that this incident took place in a New York City public school is deplorable and disheartening.”
Doug Cohen of the New York City Department of Education told The Forward it was supportive of Beacon’s moment of silence, noting that the department “supports civic engagement and advocacy.”
An earlier version of this article was published by JNS.
By Elizabeth Kratz