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Philly schools censored a podcast about Palestinian resistance art because of complaints of antisemitism. Now, there's pushback

Kristen A. Graham, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA — The African American history class assignment: Examine a modern-day group of indigenous or oppressed people’s use of art as an act of resistance and connect it to enslaved Black people’s use of spirituals.

Two Northeast High students chose to create a video of a podcast about Palestinian art. Their teacher gave them an A and chose it for entry into the school’s Black History Month assemblies, after clearing the video with her principal, who reached out to higher-ups in the Philadelphia School District.

After the first assembly, one Jewish teacher raised objections that the video was antisemitic, as did community groups alerted about it, and then district officials ordered the immediate removal of the video, which never mentions Jewish people, but mentions “the ongoing situation in Palestine and Israel” and uses an image of people in Muslim garb standing in front of a Palestinian flag next to people in yarmulkes in front of an Israeli flag.

The act proved to be a lightning rod, stirring voices of educators aghast at censorship, while groups including the newly formed School District of Philadelphia Jewish Family Association say that the video indicates Jewish people are oppressors and is therefore antisemitic.

Teacher Keziah Ridgeway, who assigned the project, is crushed.

“Our kids are entitled to choose what they want,” she said. “They have freedom of speech.”

 

What happened?

When Ridgeway told her 10th grade students about the project, she deliberately did not assign them a group to think and write about. Some chose Brazilians using Capoeira, others picked Native American resistance art.

And one student chose Palestinian art. A friend of the student’s, who’s not in Ridgeway’s class, was so excited about the assignment that he chose to participate too.

“These kids were very measured in what they created, and very respectful,” said Ridgeway.

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