Pro-Israel education group warns of ‘antisemitism and anti-Israel bias’ in teachers’ union proposals

Several items being proposed at an upcoming education convention in Philadelphia are raising concerns among a pro-Israel advocacy group about potential antisemitism and anti-Israel bias.

Delegates of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the United States, will meet at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia for their annual representative assembly from Wednesday to Sunday.

Two rallies were held Wednesday outside the convention hall, one by the Educators for Palestine group – which is made up of NEA members - and a counter rally by StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel advocacy organization. StandWithUs has characterized several proposed agenda items being discussed as antisemitic.

Although the proposed agenda items are typically confidential before being voted on at the representative assembly, Educators for Palestine have outlined several in their call to vote yes. CNN has not seen the proposed agenda items.

The NEA did not respond to CNN’s request for information on the agenda items in question.

Both groups aim to raise awareness among NEA delegates about several agenda items that reportedly call for the NEA to align itself with the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement against Israel, distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and educate members about the Nakba, a term referring to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, according to information from both Educators for Palestine and StandWithUs.

The past year has seen heightened tension in classrooms across the country, including incidents of antisemitism and anti-Palestinian hate, especially following an attack by Hamas on Israel in October.

“As the largest teachers union in the United States, the NEA has a significant influence on educational policies and practices. Before and especially after the atrocities of October 7th, a number of local and state NEA union affiliates have been embroiled in major controversies regarding antisemitism and anti-Israel bias. In some cases, this has resulted in Jewish families moving their children to different school districts with a less hostile learning environment,” a release from StandWithUs said.

“The NEA must ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all educators and students, and maintain public trust in what is being taught in our classrooms. Passing antisemitic and anti-Israel resolutions would not only harm Jewish members, but also undermine the integrity of public education,” David Smokler, director of K-12 educator outreach at StandWithUs, added.

On the other hand, Educators for Palestine urge NEA delegates to vote yes on the agenda items, stating, “As educators, we must be open to educating each other, and learning from one another. We stand in solidarity with working class people around the world. Help us fight for a liberated Palestine, and a liberated people!”

A NEA spokesperson told CNN regarding the rallies, “The members of the National Education Association and delegates to its annual Representative Assembly are committed to educating and nurturing understanding in their students of every race, faith, and background.”

“NEA has a deep history that is steeped in civil rights and advocating for racial and social justice. Over many decades, the delegates of the NEA Representative Assembly have adopted resolutions expressing our union’s condemnation of war, terrorism, hate, and violence. The vast majority of NEA delegates, members, and our society want to see a peaceful and lasting solution to this conflict,” their statement added.

About 50-100 people came to each rally. Many carried signs and some waved flags. A group of police officers with bicycles separated the groups.

Samy El-Baroudi, a business teacher from Des Moines, Iowa, who told CNN he was an organizer of the Educators for Palestine rally, said the NEA has taken stands before as it did against apartheid and should for the Palestinian people.

“We stood up against so many injustices across the world, why is this one different?” he asked.

El-Baroudi said he has proposed a new business item asking for the NEA to determine a concrete definition of “genocide,” a word he said is probably one of the most misunderstood words in the English language.

“We want to have an honest, fair conversation,” he said.

At the other rally, Smokler said some teachers are bringing biased and inappropriate materials into classrooms and telling children what to think and not how to think.

A small group of radical extremists are trying to get their propaganda into new business items, he told CNN as he stood near a protester who held a sign that read, “Critical thinking, Not indoctrination.”

He said the NEA should be focused on improving conditions for teachers and students, not geopolitics.

The rallies remained peaceful and there appeared to be no arrests.

CNN’s Matt Friedman in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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