ZOA chief Morton Klein
ZOA chief Morton KleinHezki Baruch

The Zionist Organization of America's Greater Philadelphia chapter mobilized dozens of community members to attend a Philadelphia area school board meeting to make their presence and voices known in opposition to what they described as an “anti-Jewish display filled with lies” in a school in Lower Merion Township.

At the May 15 meeting, ZOA National President Morton Klein and others protested and spoke against the “egregious Palestine display,” demanding that the “board act to halt Jew-hatred in its schools, to apologize for and retract what school officials already permitted and to include ZOA participation in remedying the problem,” ZOA Greater Philadelphia Director Steven Feldman said in a statement.

“We are heartened and inspired by the large turnout at the school board meeting, and the concern and passion for Israel and the well-being of the Jewish community expressed by residents and ZOA members,”Feldman said.

“We are especially grateful for the expression of support for ZOA by the residents who spoke – many of whom demanded that ZOA have a role in educating school faculty and staff about anti-Jewish activity as well as the real facts about events in the Middle East, the history of the region and the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish State and Jewish People.”

According to ZOA, in late March, Gladwyne Elementary School, allowed a family to create a “Palestine” exhibit to display at the school’s “Cultural Heritage Night” featuring PLO flags, posters claiming Jerusalem is the capital of “Palestine,” and that “Palestine” is a country. It also claimed that the Israeli town of Rameh was in “Palestine.”

“Of course there is no country called ‘Palestine,’ Jerusalem is the capital of Israel as per United States law, and Rameh very clearly is in Israel in an area of the country that is uncontested by any decent person,” Feldman pointed out.

ZOA added that the display “highlighted an Arab singer whose songs include praising murderers of Jewish people and advocating for the destruction of Israel. There was also a poster highlighting the cartoon character ‘Handala”’that is synonymous with the BDS movement and the so-called 'Palestinian Resistance' – a euphemism for the destruction of Israel and the slaughtering of Jews.”

Lower Merion Township, a suburb outside Philadelphia, has a large Jewish population.

“When Greater Philadelphia ZOA learned about the exhibit we immediately wrote to the principal of the school, the acting superintendent of the school district and the nine members of the school board,” Feldman said.

Their letter said, “We call on officials of Gladwyne Elementary School and the Lower Merion School District to disclaim their endorsement of the ‘Palestine’ exhibit – which is implied since it took place in the school and was part of an official school event.”

It continued: “We further call on school and school district officials to invite ZOA to offer sensitivity training and corrective information to staff about Israel, Zionism and the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish People – and the consequences of that war on the Jewish People.”

The letter also demanded that the school district institute guidelines to ensure “propaganda and misinformation asserting defamatory and dangerous claims and hate symbols against Jewish people are never again allowed on the premises of any school in the district.”

“In a school – and especially for young, impressionable children – it is imperative that facts have primacy, and propaganda that seeks to delegitimize Jewish heritage and Israel by making false representations should have no place in your school district or at any school,” Feldman said.

“Schools should be a safe place free of hate symbols. The flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization is a hate symbol just as a Third Reich flag with a swastika is. It represents to Jews decades of murder and terrorism – bombings, airplane hijackings, shootings, people hacked with axes, stabbings and the like. Palestinian Arabs have even attacked Jewish people who were enjoying a Passover seder. And its Charter calls for armed struggle and Israel’s destruction… All told, this ‘Palestine’ exhibit at the school is both an affront and an attack against the Jewish People while it miseducates students.”

Greater Philadelphia ZOA said it was not satisfied with a “lack of response and action,” so mobilized the community to attend the meeting.

Klein accused school district acting superintendent Shafer of interrupting audience testimony at the meeting, and “offering no apology or contrition” and for “deliberately ignoring other false and anti-Jewish elements in the ‘Palestine’ display.”

According to the ZOA, “Shafer noted that the school district will seek assistance on the issues – but that it would be from organizations that are soft on the Palestinian Arab war against the Jewish People, plus unnamed ‘religious leaders.’ The audience was vocally dismayed when Shafer neglected to include ZOA as an organization that would be participating.”

However, following the meeting, Klein was invited to meet with Shafer a few days later.

“The Zionist Organization of America and our Greater Philadelphia chapter vow to keep pressing this issue in the prestigious Lower Merion School District,” Feldman said. “ZOA will also fight for truth in other area school districts.”