Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rialto and the ADL: Controversy in the News

There have been a few interesting pieces floating around the world in the last few weeks about antisemitism and the Holocaust.  Among these are the Rialto homework assignment, and the recently released ADL Global study.

To bring everyone onto the same page, the Rialto assignment involved a critical thinking project that asked the students to look at different provided documents, and determine if they believed the Holocaust happened, or if it was a political scheme designed to influence people.  They provided articles from, and a website called biblebelievers.  There has been a lot of response to this assignment, including some very unfortunate people leaving hate messages for teachers.  And, of course, a backlash against the superintendent, a Mohammad Islam.

This was followed up this week by the release of the Anti-Defamation Leagues release of their survey on antisemitism.  It had some unfortunate news, basically amounting to the fact that 25% of the people in the world think that negative stereotypes are true about Jews (including things like: Jews have too much power/control, Jews think they are better, etc.)  An alarming percentage of people had never heard of the Holocaust (35%) and the surprising fact that in Muslim countries (called MENA on the survey) more educated people are more likely to harbor anti-Semitic feelings.

I had really been trying to avoid talking about this on the blog, because I typically try to focus on things going on in our household, on the calendar, or things related to being a parent.  However, I think it's reached the point (especially with these two coming up so closely together) where I should at least acknowledge the controversy.

It's a hard spot to be in.  Being Jewish can be a tough road sometimes.  I've felt that personally on more than one occasion, including being told in an Orange County Mall that I was going to hell for not believing in Jesus Christ.

It's hard sometimes to know that I'm bringing up my daughter and future children in a world that won't always accept them.  That they will be forced to face negative thoughts about them, before someone even meets them.

I do, however, want to clearly say that I think there are two different things happening here. 

In Rialto I really do believe that it was an attempt to allow our students to flex their critical thinking muscles and craft an argumentative essay.  It's hard to craft an argumentative essay about something that no one argues or cares about.  However, I've decided it would have been better for them to use landing on the moon as the subject.  There weren't 6 million people killed during that event, and there are certainly enough skeptics to make it an interesting discussion.  The problem with the assignment is that there's no way to know if the students got past the erroneous knowledge provided by the sources, and calling anything a 'credible' source when it denies the Holocaust is another issue.

Then we come to the ADL survey.  I'm highly dismayed by the number of people who believe these stereotypes, but have absolutely no personal knowledge or interaction with Jews at all.  Additionally only 54% of respondents had heard of the Holocaust, and of those who had heard of it an alarming 32% believe it was a myth or exaggerated. 

One of the Rabbi's in the South Bay community pointed out as a positive that there aren't any Jews living where these people typically have such emotions.  And while I can see that point, I'm more concerned that they have such strong opinions about something they know nothing about.  Additionally it seems that there aren't any real ways to change their opinions in person, since it's not likely some Jews will move to any of these places.

Even in The Americas 19% of people believe one or more of the stereotypes, which I think is extremely high.  And it gets even trickier because the stereotype most believed is that Jews have a higher loyalty/affinity to Israel than to the state they live in.  This is a controversial thought, and a really tough thing to think about. 

The second most believed stereotype in The Americas is that we talk to much about the Holocaust- especially interesting given the recent Rialto event, and the worldwide view on the Holocaust.  Interesting Catch-22 to be involved in.  We talk about it too much, but only 33% of the world is aware of it...

Did you read up on any of these stories?  Do any of them make you worried about raising a Jew? 

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