Bill sponsor says it shows weakness to President Trump
Ethnic studies is a contentious subject among Jewish groups in California because the proposed school curriculum seems uninterested in tackling anti-Semitism, if not openly hostile to Jews and Israel.
Gov. Gavin Newsom heeded calls from dozens of Jewish and pro-Israel groups earlier this month and vetoed a bill that would have required completion of an ethnic studies course to graduate from high school.
In a veto statement Wednesday, the progressive Democrat noted that ethnic studies is already a graduation requirement in the California State University System, and that he supports the widespread voluntary adoption of ethnic studies courses in schools across the state.
But codifying the requirement now – to take effect in the 2029-2030 school year – is problematic because of “much uncertainty about the appropriate K-12 model curriculum” for the subject, Newsom wrote.
Last year he said the draft curriculum was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended.” While he appreciates amendments by sponsoring Assemblyman Jose Medina to remove “bias and discrimination” from the curriculum, “the latest draft … still needs revision.”
Medina, a fellow Democrat, denounced the governor for “fail[ing] to push back against the racial rhetoric and bullying of Donald Trump” by vetoing the bill.
While Medina claimed Trump has “threaten[ed] to punish school districts for teaching anti-racism and anti-bias curriculum,” the Department of Education explicitly told The College Fix that President Trump’s recent executive order against racial “stereotyping or scapegoating” does not include “school curricula.”
The Jewish News of Northern California reports that the veto was something of a surprise, given the “strong majorities” behind the bill in both the Assembly and Senate. AB-331 ended up drawing “unanimous support” of Democrats and a sprinkling of Republicans following “late amendments.”
Even the Jewish Caucus supported the bill unanimously, with its chair, Sen. Ben Allen, saying they “weren’t asking for a veto.”
The California-based pro-Israel AMCHA Initiative praised the veto in a statement, saying Newsom was “keeping politics and anti-Semitism out of an educational curriculum.” It said the draft curriculum promoted “Critical Ethnic Studies,” which is “inherently anti-Semitic,” threatens Jewish students and pushes political activism in the classroom.
It organized several dozen Jewish and pro-Israel groups Sept. 10 to call on Newsom to veto AB-331. They wrote that “the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist ideological orientation” of the curriculum, which is “strongly embraced” by most members of the state-appointed Instructional Quality Commission, “will foster a toxic climate for Jewish and pro-Israel students throughout the state, and foment harm against them.”
The groups pointed to a new addition to the model curriculum that lets school districts offer a course that says Jewish Americans and Irish Americans have “racial privilege.” At the same time, an Arab American studies lesson – “the source of much of the blatant anti-Zionism and [anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions] promotion in the original draft” – reappeared in the curriculum.
The San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council had launched a campaign against the bill last month using the hashtag #JewsNotIncluded, asking state regulators to add a “meaningful” definition of anti-Semitism into the model curriculum and a sample lesson on “the diversity of Jewish Americans,” according to the Jewish News.