Ann Arbor school board passes resolution supporting Gaza ceasefire

In the United States, some unions, municipal governments and city councils have intervened in the war between Israel and Hamas, issuing statements in support of a ceasefire, often despite the vocal objections of some of their own members and constituents.

On Wednesday night, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, school board became one of the first public school districts in the country to vote in favor of such a declaration.

Supporters of the resolution, including Palestinian Americans and Jewish board members said the declaration was an urgent moral necessity in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

But the vote (4 to 1, with two abstentions) was divisive in Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and significant Arab and Jewish populations.

At a meeting marked by cheers and boos, some parents said they saw no role for the local school board in the conflict, despite their own wishes for an end to hostilities in Israel and Gaza. And they worried that singling out Israel for condemnation, in a world full of war and suffering, could fuel anti-Semitism in the district.

One parent said he planned to pull his children out of district schools.

And several parents asked the board to refocus on other issues, such as the district’s search for a new superintendent and academic recovery after the pandemic.

“Please direct your attention back to the needs of our children,” one parent said.

The war between Israel and Gaza has created huge divisions within education, both at universities and in local school districts, especially in left-leaning enclaves like Ann Arbor.

In Oakland, California, some Jewish parents are withdrawing their children from public schools after teachers held an unauthorized pro-Palestinian seminar last month.

And after a public protestAn elementary school in Brooklyn removed a classroom map depicting the Middle East without Israel, labeling the country “Palestine.”

Last week, the Ann Arbor City Council backed up its own ceasefire resolution. But in December, the University of Michigan banned any future votes on two war-related student government resolutions.

“The proposed resolutions have done more to stoke fear, anger and animosity on our campus than they would ever accomplish as recommendations to the university,” university president Santa J. Ono wrote in a letter to the community.

Rima Mohammad, who had supported the statement as president of the Ann Arbor school board, acknowledged that the ceasefire resolution was “symbolic.”

But the war between Israel and Gaza “is definitely something we have to address, especially because I think the current conflict abroad is causing an increase in racism and discrimination at the local level,” he said in an interview before the vote. “Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians and Israelis are suffering.”

Ms. Mohammad is Palestinian American and immigrated to the United States at the age of 5.

On Wednesday night, the school board, as planned, elected a new president, Torchio Feaster, who abstained from voting on the resolution.

In addition to calling for a “bilateral ceasefire in Gaza and Israel,” the resolution condemned Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

He also encouraged teachers in the 17,000-student district to facilitate classroom discussions about the conflict.

That became one of the most divisive elements of the proposal. Many established curricular resources on Palestinian-Israeli issues are created by advocacy groups and are themselves highly controversial.

Marci Sukenic, a mother of three district students and a staff member at the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, said she was “strongly opposed” to the resolution, in part because “our teachers are not prepared for those conversations.”

“There are a lot of prejudices out there,” he said. “There is misinformation.”

In the past, she said, her children had been asked in class to “represent the Jewish view” of issues, a role she did not believe was fair. “Our children could be singled out,” she said.

Jeff Gaynor, the Jewish school board member who supported the resolution, is a retired high school social studies teacher who once wrote his own curriculum on Palestinian-Israeli issues. He said he trusted educators not to venture beyond their experience.

Ernesto Querijero, the board trustee who sponsored the resolution, said he didn’t think teachers should avoid the topic, especially when students were exposed to so much discussion about the conflict on social media.

“We have to create space for students to talk about this,” said Querijero, an English teacher at a community college. “Can you create a space that allows students to express their own opinions?”

The resolution was filed by Ann Arbor high school student Malek Farha, 16, who said he wrote the statement with his uncle. As a Palestinian-American, he said, he supported educating students about the conflict so that his peers could understand that “it’s been going on for decades that Palestinians are oppressed.”

He said most students got information about the conflict through social media and the news. But he disputed the idea, put forward by many adults, that the war had divided his Jewish and Muslim peers, adding: “It never caused conflict between us.”

If so, the same cannot be said for adults. Wednesday’s board meeting had to be paused several times to try to stem the booing and personal attacks from the crowd.

Alain Delaquérière contributed to the research.