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NY Jewish lawmakers call for investigation of ‘biased’ Israel-related questions in state exam

The questions promoted a ‘revisionist narrative’ about the history of Israel and suggested ‘Zionists and Jewish immigrants’ solely benefited from territorial compromises

A group of New York Jewish state lawmakers are criticizing the state’s education department for defending a set of questions in the latest statewide global history and geography Regents exam administered to 10th-grade students. They claim the test deliberately promotes a “revisionist narrative” about the history of Israel and its borders.  

Students who took the test on Jan. 26 were asked, “Which historical event most directly influenced the development of the 1947 plan shown on map A (1947 UN Partition Plan)?” The answer deemed correct on the test attributes the establishment of Israel to the horrors of the Holocaust. This is inaccurate, the lawmakers say, because the modern Zionist movement began in the mid-19th century based on the belief that Jews should have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.

Another question about the changes in territorial control from 1947 through 2017 suggested that the various territorial compromises in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, have primarily benefited “Zionists and Jewish immigrants.” 

Israle-related questions in the New York State Global History and Geography Regents exam for students. Photo by Courtesy

 J.P. O’Hare, an education department spokesperson, said the two questions were “designed to test students’ knowledge of geography as it relates to historical events” about the creation of Israel, “including the impact of the Holocaust on migration to Israel.” He maintained that it went through a rigorous vetting process, including multiple reviews “by NYS-certified teachers and State Education Department subject matter and testing specialists to ensure they are not biased and accurately measure the learning standards.” 

The group of eight Jewish members of the State Assembly said the department’s explanation makes it even more troubling. “Both of these questions are steeped in bias, are recklessly propagandic and are frankly insulting,” they wrote in a letter sent last week to the state’s education commissioner, Betty Rosa, and shared with the Forward. “It is troubling to even contemplate that this level of biases is pervasive.”

The lawmakers said the questions “lack any semblance of context, seem to be pushing a revisionist narrative and have no place on a test or a curriculum that aims to teach history to children.” 

A similar incident in 2017 caused an uproar after the exam included a political cartoon that depicted three fat, armed Israeli soldiers using an overturned table as a shield, with one of them saying, “I knew this peace table would come in handy someday.” The education department later apologized. 

In the letter, the lawmakers urged Rosa to conduct a review of the process that allowed this to occur and ensure there are safeguards put in place so it is not repeated. The state commissioner is selected by trustees appointed by the legislature.

O’Hare said the questions “will not be used on future exams: and that the education department “will continue to work with educators and stakeholders across New York to advance equitable access to opportunity while keeping the lessons and atrocities of the past, such as the Holocaust, as testament to the work we must do together to build a better future for all students.”

Letter by members of the New York State Assembly to the state’s education commissioner Betty Rosa on Feb. 10, 2023. Photo by Courtesy

Members of New York’s Republican congressional delegation, led by Rep. Mike Lawler from the Hudson Valley, issued a similar letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month, calling it “blatantly antisemitic” and an “attack on New York’s Jewish community.” Rep. George Santos, who is under investigation for lying about his background, is not a signatory.

This post was updated to include the education department’s response. 

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