Torres is waging his own war on Palestinian history.
He is seeking to dictate to the New York Board of Regents wording around how Israel – and Palestine – is presented to students in the state of New York.
The goal is to diminish the historical reality of the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the Israeli seizure of Palestinian land. For Torres, unpleasant history related to Israel’s founding – which included massacres of Palestinians – can simply be rewritten.
The New York Democrat wrote on 1 February in a complaint to New York Board of Regents chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. after learning of exam questions he disliked. The next day, US Congressman Mike Lawler, who also harbors anti-Palestinian views, led eight other Republican representatives in writing to the governor of New York with their own concerns.Dov Hikind, a former New York state assemblyman and ongoing supporter of genocidal anti-Palestinian Meir Kahane, thanked Lawler for writing to the governor. Lawler condemns as “anti-Semitic” members of the US Congress who support freedom and equal rights for Palestinians. In 2022, Lawler accepted a campaign donation from Carl Paladino, a serial bigot and frequently unsuccessful New York political candidate who has praised Adolf Hitler. Torres, for his part, complained that the exam “features several maps of Israel’s changing borders without mentioning the critical context in which those changes arose: as a consequence of defensive, rather than aggressive, wars.” The congressman omits that by mid-May 1948, when Israel declared its statehood and Arab states declared war, “half of the total number of Palestinian refugees had already been forcefully expelled from their country.”
That is not a defensive war. Nor was Israel’s 1967 attack on Egypt and Syria defensive when it seized the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights and then the West Bank when Jordan subsequently engaged.Torres added, “Beneath the map itself is a seemingly innocuous but insidious question portraying the state of Israel as a response to the Holocaust, essentially ignoring Zionism as a national movement that long predates the Holocaust. The implication that Jewish self-determination has no rationale apart from the Holocaust is as ahistorical as it is offensive; it belongs nowhere on a Regents exam.”
The exam did not say Zionism wasn’t a factor. It just indicated that of the four answers provided, the Holocaust was the most appropriate response.
The implication of the letter is, however, very serious as Torres appears to be seeking a broader examination of what is said about Zionism in New York schools. That raises the question of whether the relationship of Zionism to the dispossession of Palestinians will be sufficiently addressed or simply whitewashed when anti-Palestinian politicians get involved and pressure educators to alter what students are taught.
Torres concluded his letter by calling on the Board of Regents to “convene a meeting with institutional leaders in the Jewish community in order to confront its own role in miseducating students about the historical origins and development of Israel as a Jewish state.”
This simply writes Palestinians and the Palestinian American community out of the equation and comes dangerously close to implying that the Jewish community is monolithic on these matters with “institutional leaders in the Jewish community” who can readily handle the matter.
Are Palestinian Americans not worthy of inclusion in these discussions promoted by Torres? His words certainly indicate that Palestinians need not be included.
And will any negative attention go to Israel as a “Jewish state”? This is an exclusivist construct rightly no longer tolerated in the US following decades of Jim Crow segregation and allying with apartheid South Africa.
Torres did not respond to questions from The Electronic Intifada about his anti-Palestinian stance.
He did tell Jewish Insider that he regards the exam as “insidiously anti-Israel.”
Torres added, “I worry that these poorly contextualized maps, which give the impression of having been drawn by [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] propagandists, play into the character assassination of Israel as an aggressor with ever-expanding borders, the settler-colonialist caricature.”
The Republicans writing Governor Kathy Hochul expressed “grave concern with the abhorrent, anti-Semitic question included in this winter’s NYS Regents exam in global history and geography.” They said nothing about the exam not explicitly raising the dispossession of Palestinians displayed by the map.
That dispossession is not of interest to them. Nor did they note that none of the three maps notes that Israel occupied the Sinai, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. The term occupied isn’t employed at all.
Instead, the Republican lawmakers conflate Israel with all Jews when they write, “It is simply beyond comprehension that anyone at the New York State Education Department would approve a question on a statewide exam that blatantly promotes hateful anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric which only fan the flames of anti-Semitism in our schools.”
What the maps portray Israel as doing between 1947 and 2017 is the responsibility of Israel and not of all Jews. Saying otherwise, as the members of Congress appear to suggest, is, in fact, anti-Semitic.
The Republican writers then make a remarkable claim: “For centuries, the state of Israel, one of our nation’s greatest allies, and Jews have fought for their right to exist. This question attempts to cast doubt on that very notion and rewrite history by erasing the struggle for independence that the state of Israel faced.”
But the modern-day state of Israel and its support from the US has only been a reality for a little more than 70 years – not centuries. Furthermore, the Republicans have nothing to say about Palestinians’ struggle for independence or even for equal rights between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.
These aren’t historians.
They’re ill-informed ideologues attempting to wrangle educators to do their political will and seeking the jobs of those responsible for the exam questions. As they say: “There must be a thorough examination into this abject failure and the individuals responsible must be held accountable.”
The nine Republicans and Torres have no more standing to write Palestinians out of the history books than Ron DeSantis does to write out Black Americans.