In an explosive House subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Republicans pressed the leaders of three major public school districts about their responses to antisemitic incidents. 

Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif., presented Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District in California, with a report on antisemitic incidents in her school district.

“You gave us a statement in your testimony when you said that ‘any suggestion or assertion that antisemitism is pervasive in the [district] is false,’” Kiley said. He then proceeded to quote a news release from the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which filed a civil rights complaint against the district.

“Incidents include students repeatedly hearing antisemitic comments in classrooms and hallways, such as ‘kill the Jews’; non-Jewish students asking Jewish students what ‘their number is,’ referring to numbers tattooed on Jews during the Holocaust; and Jewish students being derided for their physical appearance and demonized as evil,” the ADL and Brandeis Center claimed. “Jewish students report being worried about mob violence, including being ‘jumped’ at school.”

The ADL claimed that the district “has done nothing to address, much less curtail, the hostile environment.”

“You can be confident that I am there in my schools every day, in the schools, in the classrooms, with the babies,” Ford Morthel responded. She acknowledged that antisemitic incidents have occurred and declared that “every single time we are aware of such an instance… we take appropriate action.”

Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fla., pressed Karla Silvestre, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland, about whether she had fired anyone over what the Zionist Organization of America described as “severe, persistent, and pervasive antisemitism” in the school district.

“I met with one of your students this morning,” Bean said. He summarized what the student told him: “For being Jewish, I suffered physical harm.”

“Have you expelled students and teachers?” he asked.

“We have taken disciplinary action,” Silvestre responded.

“Have you fired anybody?” Bean pressed.

“No,” the board president replied. She noted that four teachers have been subjected to discipline.

Rep. Brandon Williams, R-N.Y., asked David Banks, chancellor of New York City Public Schools, whether Scott Milczewski, the former principal of Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, N.Y., is still drawing a paycheck from the school district after allowing a student-led riot. The students shouted antisemitic chants to intimidate a Jewish teacher locked in her office. The riot continued for hours before police broke it up.

“Is the former principal at Hillcrest still drawing a salary from New York Public Schools today?” Williams asked.

“Yes, he is,” Banks acknowledged. 

“How can Jewish students feel safe at New York City public schools when you can’t even manage to terminate the principal of ‘open season on Jews’ high school?” Williams demanded.

The chancellor noted that staff at the school district have due process rights.

“That’s concerning to me that you still have him in a senior position,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said of the situation. “We’re getting lip service, but a lack of enforcement and accountability.”

Banks condemned the hearing as “the ultimate ‘gotcha’ moment,” suggesting that the House’s investigation of the antisemitic events that had taken place in his district wasn’t something that would “bring us together.”

Ford Morthel said it was “appropriate” for a curriculum to teach students a positive spin on the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Kiley asked her about a school curriculum that stated, “For some Palestinians, ‘From the river to the sea’ is a call for freedom and peace.” The curriculum went on to cite Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who the House of Representatives censured for her remarks on the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. 

“We definitely believe that it is important to expose our students to a diversity of ideas and perspectives, and if it was presented as a perspective, I do think it was appropriate,” she responded.

Ford Morthel later added that the slogan could be both a call for genocide and a call for peace, depending on the context.

“From the river to the sea” is a call for Jews to be swept from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in an ethnic cleansing, establishing the Islamic State of Palestine. It has been the official motto of the Hamas terrorist organization since 1988.

Ford Morthel largely brushed off the dozens of reported antisemitic bullying and harassment incidents in her district by telling members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, “Our babies sometimes say harmful things. We are mindful that all kids make mistakes.”

She described antisemitic incidents from staff similarly, claiming that “we know that our staff are not immune to mistakes, either. And we don’t ignore them when they occur.”

Contrary to that statement, Berkeley High School teacher Alex Day told school board members and parents that he would be teaching an anti-Israel curriculum full of falsified history to students in November, and proceeded to lecture students about the Israeli government in class for several days without intervention. Several local parents are currently suing the district over the matter.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., used the hearing to vilify former President Donald Trump and her Republican colleagues, falsely suggesting that the former president had described white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “very fine people on both sides.”

“If my colleagues care about antisemitism, they could condemn and denounce these comments from the leader of their party,” Bonamici claimed. “Does anyone have the courage to stand up against this? Let the record show no one spoke up at this time.”

The transcript from the 2017 press conference Bonamici appears to be referencing does not show Trump calling white supremacists “very fine people.” After saying that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the debate about Confederate monuments, Trump added: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.”