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For Friends Seminary, Mideast Visit With An Arab Slant
Staff Writer
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Does a school trip to Israel that offers its students extensive exposure to Palestinian Arabs and limited time with Jews constitute a valid educational experience?

Some parents of Jewish students at the Friends Seminary, a Quaker-affiliated K-12 institution in Manhattan, think not.

The school — its enrollment is about one-third Jewish — sponsored a five-day visit to Israel this week that it described as “cultural” rather than political in nature. It included home hospitality each night with Palestinian families in Ramallah whose children attend that city’s Friends School, an assignment to compile oral histories of those families, a chaperone from the school’s history department who is accused of presenting a one-sided anti-Israel version of Middle East events in his classes, and a meeting the last day with officials at the American Jewish Committee.

“The trip did not offer a balance” of the Arab and Israeli points of view, said the parent of a Jewish high school student at Friends. Despite the requests of several parents, the school “did not change the itinerary,” he said. “There are a number of Jewish parents who expressed concern [to the school] about this issue.”

Following the recent performance at the school of a Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli-born musician who describes himself as a “proud self-hating Jew” and outspoken critic of Israel, the parent said he is “concerned about bullying.” He asked that his name not be used here because his pro-Israel child still attends the school.

His child was not among some 17 students on the trip, all of whom study Arabic at the school, the parent said. Several Jewish students were part of the delegation.

Friends Seminary officials did not respond to several requests from The Jewish Week to comment on this issue.

Rabbi Ed Rettig, acting director of the AJC’s Israel office, told The Jewish Week that he met the Friends Seminary group in their Jerusalem hotel. “We had a good meeting,” he said. “They did a lot of hard thinking” about what they had observed during their previous time in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“The atmosphere in the school … is actively against Israel,” says Kenneth Jacobson, the Anti-Defamation League’s deputy national director. “We haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”

The ADL was earlier in contact with Friends Seminary administrators about the appearance of Atzmon, a jazz saxophonist who left Israel in 1994 and lives in London. While he reportedly did not discuss Middle East politics during his school visit, his being invited gives the appearance of an “implicit endorsement” of his political views, the parent said.

In a commentary published this week in The Jerusalem Post, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman wrote, “Because of the intensely personal nature of the [students’] home visits in the West Bank, which will expose the group only to a Palestinian perspective, these visits should be balanced by similar experiences with Israelis within Israel.

“What seems to be happening … at Friends is a familiar and disturbing phenomenon,” Foxman wrote. “An institution gets so comfortable presenting a distorted anti-Israel version of historical and current events in the Middle East that they do not or will not recognize how easily what seems like criticisms of Israel can veer into anti-Semitism.”

“It’s very painful,” said the parent, “to be concerned that [a pro-Israel child] could be subjected to uncomfortable situations when I send him to school every day.”


Last Update:

04/02/2012 - 17:19
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This is nothing new. The Society of Friends (Quakers) and their institutions like Swarthmore College, have long been in the Palestinian Arab amen corner. They may not consider themselves anti-Semitic, but I certainly do.

I am committed observant Jew and Zionist and I think it is interesting to criticize the 'one-sided' trip to Palestinian homes. I agree that all of us should hear both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian issue but when was the last time I typical Jewish trip to Israel included trips to Palestinian homes to hear the other side.

Last night I had the opportunity to talk with a young Palestinian who works with Rabbis for Human Rights trying to protect Palestinian's who are harvesting their olive groves from settler violence. He said it is unfortunate that most young Palestinians only contact with Jews are those who check them at a checkpoint or want to beat them up for harvesting their crops.

I have also spent time with relatives on a settlement and listened to their desire to live peacefully with Arabs and try to have good relations.

So I agree that listening to many points of view is vital and I could hope that every trip to Israel would include many conversations.

My reply is very simple. If you are Jewish and are pro-Israel, why do you continue to snd your children to that school when there are so many fine other institutions that will teach your child to think about issues in a balanced way?

Parents unhappy with the school policy can easily choose a different school for their children the more closely follows their beliefs.

Why the hell are you continuing to send your child to that school? Why endorse them and give them money? What are you afraid of ? That your son needs to attend Friends to get into the Ivy league?
1) That is not true - my kids went to Yeshiva of Flatbush, HAFTR, and public high school in Binghamton N.Y. and got into Yale and Cooper Union
2) More importantly, I'd rather my kid be a shit shoveler than be in that school
Take your child to Israel. Enjoy not only the history, but the families making history.
Visit army bases and speak with our brave soldiers.Y
Your child does not need that school to have the experience of a lifetime, and a rewarding life thereafter
But, most importantly, SPEAK UP for your people
Suzanne feldhamer - bet Shemesh Israel

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