The presentation, given on September 18, 2015, at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca, New York, was meant to raise the topic of human rights with the third graders, but caused controversy as the guest speakers, Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi and local pro-Palestinian activists Ariel Gold and Mary Anne Grady Flores, showed the children anti-Israel videos and spoke against the country.
The newly released partial video of the event was obtained after Cornell Law Prof. William Jacobson conducted a year-long court battle with the Ithaca City School District to cease and release all documents available about the event, through a Freedom of Information Law request, which the school is subject to as a public entity.
In the video, which only shows the end of the presentation, when children were asked to react to what they saw, one child is heard saying: “I think that Israel is wrong to think that Palestine could be theirs because they already have a lot of land and they shouldn’t just take more thinking they own the world.”
“When I grow up, I’m going to go to Palestine and protest,” another added, as many in the class raised their hands to express themselves as well.
“The United Nations makes laws around what countries can do and many times Israel violates those laws and that is what we are working for,” activist Gold, who is involved with Jewish Voice for Peace as well as the organization Code Pink, which supports the BDS movement, told the children.
The main speaker, Tamimi, ended the event by calling on the Ithaca children to become freedom fighters for Palestine.
“The wall that we would like to build to protect ourselves is your solidarity, you’re important [in] what you can do for us,” he said. “You all defend us, you can do a lot for [us], and be the freedom fighters for Palestine.”
Jacobson decided to investigate the matter after learning about the event through social media on the same day.
After filing his request and receiving documents such as the internal communications between the organizers of the event and the activists, it became clear to him, he told The Jerusalem Post, that the presentation was intended to be anti-Israel.
“In and of itself it was bad, but it is a reflection that the anti-Israel activists recognize no boundaries, not even as to children,” he said. “If this had been a presentation to high school students, I think a lot of people would have complained it wasn’t balanced, it wasn’t fair, etc., but the fact that they manipulated eightand nine-year-old children, I think [that] makes it so outrageous.”
Jacobson told the Post that for over a year, the school district withheld numerous documents, including the video. He then decided to take the matter to the court, which compelled the district to provide the material.
Just a few days after the event, in light of the controversy, Luvelle Brown, superintendent of the Ithaca City School District, issued a statement calling the statements made during the event “politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.”
“We recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very sensitive to many members of our community,” Brown added. “We also recognize that this delicate topic was not presented in a manner consistent with its importance. We sincerely regret that this has occurred.”
The school principal’s did not respond to the Post’s multiple requests for a reaction to the video.
“This is a public school,” Jacobson told the Post. “If this were them doing it at home, they can teach their children whatever they want to teach their children. If they want to teach their children to hate Israel, they have a parental right to do that. They don’t have the right to force this on students in a public school, unless it is part of the officially approved curriculum, which it’s not.”
Jacobson added that he views the children’s teachers as largely responsible for the incident.
“There were multiple teachers in that room, none of whom spoke out about this,” he said. “That’s the truly outrageous thing. I don’t blame the activists as much as I blame the teachers and staff at the school. Because the activists do what they do, you expect inappropriate conduct from the activists,” he added. “You don’t expect it from teachers. Their job is to protect the students and to follow the curricula, not to inject their personal politics into the classroom.”
The video, which was obtained by Jacobson last week, shows only one part of the presentation.
He explained that there are two additional video files depicting the rest of the presentation, but technical difficulties have prevented the videos from being played. Jacobson has therefore hired an expert to look into the issue.
“We don’t know 100% what they were shown and told,” he said. “We do know what their reactions were. The students absorbed that material.”
Despite reaching out to the New York State Department of Education and getting confirmation that the request was received, the office did not provide the Post with a reaction or statement.