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Critique Responsibly - In the Press

Evenhandedness On Ethnic Charter Schools
Adam Dickter
The Continuum/The New York Jewish Week
January 11, 2010

The anonymous group Jewish Women Watching has come out swinging against the alleged disparate reaction -- in a racist way, in their view -- of the "mainstream Jewish community" to the openings of two New York City public charter schools. In a campaign called "Critique Responsibly," JWW notes that some flew off the handle at the thought of the Arabic-themed Khalil Gibran Academy in Brooklyn, while taking a measured response to the opening of the Hebrew Language Academy, also in Brooklyn.

There is probably a fascinating analysis of this theme to be done, but on the face of it, Jewish Women Watching has not done it. What they have done is compare apples and oranges. To make their case of hypocrisy, they would have to compare the reactions of the same leaders to identical phenomena occurring in two different communities.

Instead, JWW is distributing a bookmark that displays a quote from Daniel Pipes of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum, warning that Gibran will "generate serious problems...imbuing pan-Arabism and anti-Zionism, proselytizing for Islam, and promoting Islamist sympathies will predictably make up the school's true curriculum."

Leaving alone the question of whether Pipes' concern is valid, the commentator, while he may be Jewish, has not, as far as I've heard, claimed to be a representative of the "mainstream Jewish community" or a spokesman for anyone but Middle East Forum. Clearly his quote was featured solely because it is one of the harshest available on the subject.

The contrasting quote is from the American Jewish Congress, which does hold itself out as a "defense agency" that concerns itself with the well-being of the Jewish people. No quote is featured from the Congress on Gibran, and my recollection and preliminary search results suggest they offered none. But JWW presents a paragraph from the Forward paraphrasing the agency's Marc Stern, an expert on matters or religion and law, on the Hebrew Language School that opened its doors a year after Gibran.

"Stern said he does not believe that a Hebrew-language charter school inherently poses a challenge to the constitutionally mandated divide between religion and state. would be impossible to distinguish exactly what element might be used 'as a means of furthering Judaism.'"

Opposition to the Gibran Academy centered on concerns that the school would be a taxpayer-funded Madrassa that fomented Islamic funadementalism. Those concerns were deemed unfounded by the Department of Education and the mayor, who went ahead with opening the school as planned, although the founding principal had to step down as a casualty of that pressure.

Since Hebrew and Israeli radicalism have proven to be far less a danger around the world, and not at all in New York, opposition to the Hebrew Language Academy, such as it is, centers around constitutional issues, the impact on local Jewish day schools and whether students there will substitute its curriculum for a Jewish education.

Completely different people addressing completely different issues, and as far as I can see, most leaders in the community staying out of the fray in both cases.