An Open Letter to Chancellor Banks (NYC Educators for Palestine

Original online here.

An Open Letter to Chancellor Banks
Media Inquiries


May 1st, 2024

NYC Educators for Palestine

Dear Chancellor Banks

NYC Educators for Palestine are a diverse group of K-12 educators in NYC schools. As  antiracists, we are anti-zionist, and reject the false claims that this is synonymous with antisemitism. We understand zionism to be a form of settler-colonialism that has resulted in the violent dispossession of Palestinians from their ancestral homelands and the imposition of apartheid. As educators, we condemn all forms of colonization, racism, anti-Blackness, and the US war machine; simultaneously, we demand equity for all New York City students and families. We want an end to the genocide in Gaza and a liberated Palestine. 

As educators, we are horrified by the zionist entity’s attempts to enact scholasticide on Gaza’s children and feel compelled to act. So far in Gaza, thousands of students and fellow educators have been murdered, at least 60% of educational facilities have been destroyed, and over 600,000 children no longer have access to education (United Nations, 2024). We are writing this letter to express our outrage over the upcoming congressional hearings which seek to demonize NYCPS educators and staff who stand for a free Palestine. 

As educators, and people working in schools, we value education and know that it changes lives and communities. Children have the right to be exposed to diverse historical perspectives, so that they can build an understanding of how their lives are shaped. Studying history teaches us lessons about justice, empathy, leadership, and empowerment. We know that Apartheid South Africa was immoral because we have been taught, we know Nazi Germany and the Holocaust were immoral because we have been taught, and similarly children should be taught that the occupation of Palestine is immoral and must end. Repression of real history is dangerous and bigoted. It makes everyone less safe, because it creates an environment in which ignorance and hatred are validated and fueled. We demand the DOE end contracts with zionist curriculum vendors (e.g. the Institute for Curriculum Services) that reinforce hateful anti-Palestinian stereotypes and anti-Islamism. We demand the right to teach the complete version of the historical events we are living through so that our students may come to their own conclusions.

Furthermore, we’ve seen a dangerous pattern in NYC schools of prioritizing the voices of zionist parents, teachers and students, while punishing and repressing those against the genocide, many of whom are Muslim and Arab. We have seen students painted as violent antisemitic agitators simply for expressing their horror over the violence in Gaza. Students and staff should not be silenced for grieving the loss of family members simply because they are Palestinian.This targeting of our students of color is deplorable, and has a negative impact on their mental health and feelings of safety while in school. We know that it is harder to learn when one doesn’t feel safe. The mental health impacts extend to grieving, which is a vital, human process when faced with devastating loss. In the past 6 months over 30,000 Palestinians have been murdered. We have seen a constant live stream of dead babies on our social media, this impacts us collectively, and it personally impacts the Palestininian students and educators who have lost family in this genocide. These hearings, and the culture of intimidation they create, make our schools and communities less safe. 

This country has an insidious history of weaponizing congressional hearings against progressive intellectuals and teachers. The American public is most familiar with McCarthyism, wherein right wing officials preyed upon populist fears of communist ideology to ruin the lives and careers of professors, political adversaries, and left-wing activists. Less known was the Lavender Scare, during which historians estimate between five and ten thousand LGBTQ government workers lost their jobs because of their sexuality. These shameful periods in congressional history teach us that the bigoted and dogmatic attitudes of even a handful of powerful congressional representatives can stifle important critiques of dominant supremacist ideologies for generations to come. We urge Chancellor Banks to denounce these hearings and to protect NYC teachers and students from this witch hunt. 

Furthermore, such narrow-minded grandstanding on the nation’s highest political stage have material impacts on regular, working people that ripple through our communities. There has been an unconscionable lack of protection for teachers who are being harassed and doxxed by zionists simply for calling for a free Palestine.  In the era of social media, where all personal information is a search away, students and staff have been harassed at their home addresses and workplaces. We have gathered reports of teachers who have contemplated breaking their lease after their families were harassed at their homes; teachers who have been suspended without pay; teachers who have been terrorized by doxxing trucks with hateful messages parked outside their schools; and parent advocates who have received feces in the mail. Most disheartening, we have seen media outlets put forth racist portrayals of our Black and brown students. Our students’ earnest attempts to engage in the world around them and speak out against injustice have been falsely portrayed as anti-semitic, a tactic that has been used to silence and harrass anyone opposing the genocide.  We do not feel the Department of Education has done enough to condemn such racist attacks on our young people. Furthermore, we have witnessed outsized repression  and  violence against Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, Jewish, and Black mothers in particular, in parent leadership who stand against zionism.  These hearings, and the inaction from the Department of Education to protect students is antithetical to the NYCDOE’s mission to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students. We demand that these students’, families’ and teachers’ rights are protected. We demand an end to the harassment against those speaking out about Gaza.

We reject the House committee’s attempt to weaponize antisemitism by portraying all criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Doing so dangerously conflates Judaism, an identity, with zionism, a political ideology. Our Jewish students, families and educators have a diverse range of opinions on the subject of Israel. As educators, we are also committed to teaching our students how to combat all hateful ideologies and systems. However, we believe that the conflation of legitimate criticism of zionism with antisemitism is antithetical to the development of democratic discourse in K-12 education.

We are deeply concerned that the House Committee’s true goal is to stifle all forms of anti-colonial, anti-racist and liberatory discourse in our classrooms.  Committee members such as Representative Elise Stefanik, who has a history of white nationalist politics, find it politically expedient to use the claim that they are defending Jewish students, when in truth they seek to ban books and curriculum that challenge white supremacy.  The diverse students of New York City are our future leaders and deserve an education that allows them to critique mainstream ideologies, including zionism. We will not let our students be used as pawns. 

We demand that Chancellor Banks and the NYCDOE do not capitulate to the harmful rhetoric in these congressional hearings. This means the following:

Our Demands

  1. Hands off students, families, and educators.
    End the targeted repression of Palestinian students, families, educators, and their allies on and off school campuses, including through disciplinary processes. 
    Refuse to bow to calls to discipline and punish young people for taking action and expressing their views. 
    Mobilize additional mental health resources for students who are grieving the genocide
  2. Support educator autonomy and agency in developing curriculum on a range of subjects that responds to the needs of students.
    Empower and support schools to hold brave spaces and engage with accurate history to combat Islamophobia. 
    End contracts with curriculum vendors that reinforce harmful rhetoric about Palestinians and promote zionism. 
  3. Uphold academic freedom and the right to free speech and protest. 
    Protect students’ and families’ who support Palestinian rights. Refuse to remain impartial while students, families, and educators are being targeted and harassed. 
    Express solidarity with students protesting in universities across the country.
  4. Demilitarize.
    End the deployment of the NYPD to schools as a tactic to suppress student speech and assembly. 
  5. Divest. 
    End contracts with companies that profit from apartheid, occupation, and genocide and ensure accountability by increasing transparency around contracts. 
  6. End the complicity.
    By calling on educators to remain apolitical in the classroom and not bring their personal views to school, the Chancellor has picked a side. Calling to reverse statements that selectively interpret and creatively paraphrased existing DOE policies to silence students, educators and families. 
    Release a public statement calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, denouncing the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people, and call on government officials to end the siege and occupation. 
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