Fieldston Fires Teacher Over Anti-Zionist Tweets

Fieldston Fires Teacher Over Anti-Zionist Tweets

Reform rabbis address elite prep school in wake of dustup over Israel.

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale. The Israel wars have flared at the school, with Jewish parents and students feeling besieged.
Wikimedia Commons
The Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale. The Israel wars have flared at the school, with Jewish parents and students feeling besieged. Wikimedia Commons

JTA  The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, an elite New York City prep school, has fired a teacher who posted tweets opposing Zionism.

JB Brager, who taught history at Fieldston, was fired last Thursday, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has learned. The termination comes after Brager, who is Jewish, posted multiple tweets disparaging Zionism amid a controversy over anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism at the school.

“ECFS does not comment on personnel matters,” the school said in a statement to JTA Thursday evening. “We can reaffirm, however, that the school does not tolerate hurtful, offensive, or exclusionary content or comments from any member of the community. Students, parents, employees and other members of our community all face consequences for misbehavior of this nature.”

JTA reached out to Brager for comment, but did not immediately hear back.

The controversy began in November when a speaker at the school, Kayum Ahmed, a lecturer at Columbia University Law School and a director at the Open Society Foundations, said that the Holocaust and Israel are examples of “victims becoming perpetrators,” according to a video obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Tablet magazine reported that parents were “shaken and outraged” by the remark.

“Xenophobic attacks are a shameful part of South African history, but in some ways it reflects the fluidity between those who are victims becoming perpetrators,” Ahmed said. “I use the same example in talking about the Holocaust. That Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel today — they perpetuate violence against Palestinians that are unthinkable. So again, the victims of the Holocaust and the violence have become the perpetrators of injustice against the Palestinians.”

According to Tablet and the Washington Free Beacon, sometime following Ahmed’s remarks, Brager tweeted, “I refuse to ‘reaffirm the value’ of ethno-nationalist settler colonialism.”

On Dec. 17, the principal of Fieldston’s upper school, Nigel Furlonge, wrote in an email obtained by JTA that the school had “engaged in a meaningful internal dialogue about what the experiences have been, both historically and currently, for Jewish faculty and students at ECFS.”

He announced that on Jan. 9, two rabbis of large New York City Reform congregations, Ammiel Hirsch from Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and Joshua Davidson from Temple Emanu-El, would address a school assembly.

On Monday, Rabbi Hirsch told students, according to a release, “As critical as you may be about Israeli policies, to accuse Israelis of inflicting Nazi-like violence on others is morally grotesque.” The release noted that the line received resounding applause.

“What’s happening here is not isolated to Fieldston — it’s pervasive at schools across New York,” Rabbi Hirsch continued. “That’s why it’s so important for us to get involved. The anti-Semitism we’ve seen on college campuses over the past decade has become so accepted in certain parts of the progressive world that it has seeped down to high schools.”

In his remarks, Rabbi Hirsch urged the students to, “Be on your intellectual and moral guard. When you encounter anti-Israel protests, ask the protesters what they are protesting. And if they tell you they are against Zionism — that Zionism is racism — ask them how they see the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and listen carefully to their response. They want not accommodation with Israel, but the elimination of Israel.”

Following Furlonge’s announcement that the two rabbis would appear at the school, Brager tweeted, “for a school assembly on anti-Semitism, sure go ahead and invite two white men who run Reform congregations, both of whom are Zionists, one that wrote that the ‘most insidious strain [of American anti-Semitism] is that of anti-Zionist intersectionality [on the far-left].’” Brager ended the tweet with three angry-face emojis. JTA has obtained a screenshot of the tweet.

Brager was quoting in the tweet a modified sentence from a Nov. 19, 2018 op-ed by Rabbi Davidson in The Jewish Week. 

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