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Anne Frank’s diary, ‘Schindler’s List’ among titles at center of major Florida book-ban lawsuit

(JTA) – A Florida school district is heading to court in a closely watched legal challenge to its decision to remove more than 1,600 books, including Anne Frank’s original diary.

“Schindler’s List” and a young-adult novel about a teenage girl in Auschwitz are also among the slew of books that have been pulled from shelves and are now being held for “further review” in Escambia County, in Florida’s Panhandle. The district shared the list publicly in December, saying that its removals comply with state law.

Now, Escambia County is due in court Wednesday for a hearing about a lawsuit challenging the removals. The suit brought by publishing giant Penguin Random House, literary speech activist group PEN America, local parents and several bestselling authors argues that the district’s book bans discriminate against people of color and LGBTQ people.

Such books have been the target of a national, conservative push to remove material that some argue is offensive. The push has been strongest in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has championed the effort and enshrined it in state law. In a sign of how seriously the state is taking the lawsuit, Florida’s own attorney general is advocating on the district’s behalf.

As has frequently been the case, Jewish books have been caught up in the dragnet in Escambia County.

In addition to Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” Escambia has also removed other books about the Holocaust, including “Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography,” by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón; “Schindler’s List,” the novel about Oskar Schindler by Australian author Thomas Keneally that was adapted into Steven Spielberg’s movie; and “The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel” by Antonio Iturbe and Salva Rubio, based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, who hid books from the Nazis in the camps.

A representative for Escambia County schools did not respond to a request for comment. But a chart on the district’s website noted that the books it has stored for review are “based on community standards and/or by a committee.”

The Florida Freedom to Read Project, a statewide free-expression activist group, shared a copy of what it said was the district’s book appropriateness checklist with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It requires school media centers to “check sex, romance & nudity,” “check violence & scariness” and search sites such as Google Books for “terms related to sexual content” for each title.

“All classroom copies must be removed from student access until the title has been reviewed according to community standards,” the district noted. The district also suggests specialists look up the book on BookLooks, a book-review site with ties to Moms For Liberty, the conservative activist group that has driven much of the book-ban momentum.

Florida law requires schools to pull and review books if a resident alleges they contain “sexual” content, but enforcement methods differ by district, which activists say is a result of unclear guidance from the state.

“Once all books with any depiction or description of sexual conduct or age assigned as “adult” by the publisher were pulled from the shelves and put into storage, the media centers were allowed to open back up,” Stephana Farrell of Florida Freedom to Read Project told JTA.

The case in Escambia County is one of several currently unfolding against local and state book-ban laws — and is not the only one to involve Jewish books. Recently a federal judge in Iowa, blocking parts of that state’s own book-ban law, suggested it was keeping Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night” out of schools.

But the Escambia case has attracted outsized attention, as it puts Florida’s strict book laws, and the stance of DeSantis, who is running for president, in the legal hot seat. Spurred by a teacher challenging 100 books she said were sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate for children, the Escambia case has led to the firing of the district superintendent and the resignation of the library services coordinator; photos of district bookshelves covered with black paper have become a potent symbol of the school book wars.

The inclusion of “The Diary of a Young Girl” is especially notable. A recent graphic adaptation of Frank’s diary has been removed from several schools in Florida and elsewhere, because some parents and legislators have objected to its illustration of sexual passages from her book. But Escambia County marks the first instance in which Frank’s original diary is known to have been removed from schools since the “parents’ rights” movement driving the book purge gained steam in 2021.

Several leading proponents of the movement have publicly stated their support for the original Anne Frank diary’s inclusion in classrooms, and school districts that pulled the new adaptation have defended their decision by noting the original remains available.

Bruce Friedman, a Jewish parent in Florida who successfully pushed for the removal of the diary’s graphic adaptation and hundreds of other books in his own district, told JTA last year that schools “should stick” with Frank’s original diary. “We’ve made it into part of mainstream America to read that diary,” he said.

And Tiffany Justice, co-founder of the parents’ rights group Moms For Liberty, also told JTA last year that she believes schools should teach Frank’s diary.

The Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss group that controls the diary, has also weighed in. “We consider the book of a 12-year-old girl to be appropriate reading for her peers,” the group said last year.

The foundation was responding to bans of the illustrated version, which it authorized and which has become a frequent target for book-ban advocates. The other books about Judaism and the Holocaust that have been temporarily or permanently removed from schools include Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer” and Elisabeth Kushner’s “The Purim Superhero,” a children’s book about an LGBTQ Jewish family, which was also pulled from a Florida Panhandle district.

Among the other titles being held for review in Escambia County are dictionaries, thesauruses, the Guinness Book of World Records, and science books by National Geographic.


The post Anne Frank’s diary, ‘Schindler’s List’ among titles at center of major Florida book-ban lawsuit appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties

A Qatar 2022 logo is seen in front of the skyline of the West Bay in Doha. Photo: REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.

Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.

The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”

The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas. 

In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.

The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses. 

A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms. 

However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”

There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.

The post Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK

Antisemitic message graffitied on Hillel House of University of Leeds. Photo: Union of Jewish Students/X

The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.

“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”

The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”

“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.

Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.

“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”

Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”

Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.

“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”

The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.

Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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US House Committee Threatens Harvard University With Subpoena for Antisemitism Documents

Illustrative Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Harvard University on Wednesday was given a “final warning” to fully cooperate with the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s investigation of antisemitism on its campus.

In January, Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) gave the school, which spent the fall semester under fire for allegedly ignoring rampant antisemitic harassment and intimidation, two weeks to deliver documents relevant to the committee’s investigation. Harvard never did, and now Rep. Foxx is threatening to subpoena the material she requested.

“The committee has sought to obtain information regarding Harvard’s response to the numerous incidents of antisemitism on its campus and steps taken to protect Jewish students, faculty and staff,” Foxx wrote in a letter to Harvard University interim president Alan Garber and Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker.

“Harvard’s responses have been grossly insufficient,” she continued. “If Harvard continues to fail to comply with the committee’s requests in a timely manner, the committee will proceed with compulsory process.”

Foxx has requested a trove of documents, including “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents” and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined during an investigation, “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is also investigating other top universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to determine whether administrators at those schools ignored antisemitic discrimination. The probes were announced after the committee grilled the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT about their plans to respond to rising anti-Jewish hate in their communities. During the hearing, Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn — both of whom have since resigned from their positions — as well as Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded lawmakers’ questions, infamously equivocating on whether calling for the genocide of Jews contravenes school rules.

For Harvard, America’s oldest institution of higher education and arguably its most prestigious, the presence of radical anti-Zionists on  campus has been a persistent issue. At the start of this academic year, a student and anti-Israel activist interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”

However, the broader public largely did not take notice until Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel. As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005.

For her part, Gay waited several days to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When she resigned at the beginning of the new year, she accused her critics of racism.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post US House Committee Threatens Harvard University With Subpoena for Antisemitism Documents first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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