Behind the Two Legal Organizations Investigating Antisemitism at SUHSD

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Read the M-A Chronicle’s other articles on antisemitism and the controversial Ethnic Studies presentation here.

Two legal organizations have sent public records requests to Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) to obtain lesson materials, text messages, and emails about Ethnic Studies and the teaching of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The M-A Chronicle has learned that the Zachor Legal Institute and The Deborah Project both sent separate Public Records Act (PRA) requests that triggered two emails on January 31st from Associate Superintendent of Education Services Bonnie Hansen. Despite the M-A Chronicle’s earlier reporting, the requests did not exclusively come from the Deborah Project.

The Zachor Legal Institute’s Request

The PRA request from Hansen’s second email—which required Ethnic Studies teachers to submit all of their lesson materials and electronic communications about Ethnic Studies—was sent by the Zachor Legal Institute, a legal think tank and advocacy organization. The Zachor Legal Institute’s Chief Operating Officer Ron Machol sent the request after reading an article from The Almanac about a board meeting where community members clashed over an Ethnic Studies presentation. According to him, the Zachor Legal Institute sent their PRA request without any knowledge of the Deborah Project’s PRA requests.

Some teachers felt that the requests were an attack on classrooms. Machol said, “I don’t want teachers to see our requests as an intimidation tactic; that is not our intent at all. We do not have any other way to get this information. Other districts can provide this information without placing any burden on teachers.”

Machol added, “I hope that this request reminds teachers and administrators that there is such a thing as a public records request and that they think about whether their material is educational rather than political.”

The Deborah Project’s Requests

The Deborah Project has sent two PRA requests to SUHSD: first in January of 2023 and second in January of 2024. 

The District did not send an email to teachers asking them to submit materials for the Deborah Project’s first PRA. Deborah Project Legal Director Lori Lowenthal Marcus said the District claimed to provide all Ethnic Studies materials, which would include teacher-produced materials, but commented, “SUHSD must have not turned over all of the materials since they never even told the teachers we asked for it and they are now saying no one has ever asked for everything taught in classes.”

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Todd Beal handled PRA requests at the time. Beal told the M-A Chronicle that since the Deborah Project’s first PRA request was less comprehensive and focused on training materials and District-created materials, all documents were from the District office and not from teachers. Lowenthal Marcus said, “The District’s interpretation of our request is absurd and I’m pretty sure they know it.”

The Deborah Project’s second PRA request asked for all instructional materials containing the words “Zionism, Zionists, Israel, Israelis, Palestine, and/or Palestinians” taught since September 1st. 


Central to this controversy is the question of when criticism of Israel becomes antisemitic.

In September, two teachers presented a lesson that included multiple slides which some community members argue are antisemitic. One slide states, “Israel is a country created on Palestinian land. The United Nations says this is illegal.” 

On when criticism of the State of Israel becomes antisemitic, Lowenthal Marcus said, “It’s obvious to me; if it is criticism of whatever the current government of Israel is, that is completely fair and has nothing to do with antisemitism.” 

“But, if someone claims that Jews stole the land of Israel from the Palestinians and the Palestinians are the indigenous people, that becomes antisemitic; it is denying Jewish history,” she added. “If someone is complaining about a genocide now in Gaza, but never complained about something like what Assad did in Syria to his own people, then that becomes antisemitism because that is targeting the Jewish state because it is the Jewish state; you’re full of crap if you say it’s anything else.”

Machol agreed that criticism of the State of Israel is not automatically antisemitic. He said, “A lot of times, it seems that people use Israel as a proxy for the Jewish people, and then it can become antisemitic.” 

“When a teacher is presenting one side of an issue and not presenting the other sides, when you’re talking about, for example, what’s happening in Israel and the Gaza Strip, but they’re not talking about countries like Yemen, Sudan, or Syria, it seems like there’s sometimes a double standard. If you’re going to present both sides, it’s okay, but in Ethnic Studies classes, they only show Israel as the bad guy,” he added.

The Zachor Legal Institute

Machol said, “Until recently, we only focused on using the law to combat antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel in commercial settings and universities. After California announced it was going to require Ethnic Studies, we also started to focus on K-12 education as we started to see issues on how Israel and Jewish-Americans were going to be portrayed.” 

Machol added, “Although we haven’t gotten information from SUHSD, we have seen [at other districts] what we consider extremely divisive and hateful information about how Israel was presented. We’ve seen Ethnic Studies cross the line into sometimes even political indoctrination.”

On what he believes teachers should do in Ethnic Studies, Machol said, “I would love to see Ethnic Studies taught in a way that was educational rather than political. One simple way that would satisfy us particularly is that Israel is not mentioned at all. It would also be okay if Israel was not mentioned in an exclusively negative way.”

The Zachor Legal Institute has also published materials, like a peer-reviewed legal article titled “The True History and Legal Meaning of Colonialism in the Holy Land: The 2042 BCE Project,” which argues, “Jews, and the modern state of Israel, can’t be deemed to be imperialist under any definition or commonly-accepted usage of the term. The same cannot be said of those entities that conquered and occupied the land of Israel over the millennia.” The article also criticizes “Marxist groups like Black Lives Matter” for referring to Israel as settler-colonialist, imperialist, and colonialist and that these terms “more accurately” describe Palestine.

Machol said, “[The article] is a good outline of what content to include in a Jewish-American section of Ethnic Studies.” 

The Zachor Legal Institute is sending PRA requests to other Districts as well.

Machol said, “At this point, I can’t answer what we’re going to do with the information. All I can say right now is that we’re building a repository of information that we’ve gotten from school districts throughout the state. Our focus is specifically on a very small niche, which is how Israel is portrayed.” Machol declined to name the other districts at this time.

On why they asked for electronic communication about Ethnic Studies, Machol said, “It’s difficult to send a PRA request when you don’t entirely know what documents are out there. We don’t have anyone telling us where the problems are, so we have to send a general request and if we have more information, we can be more specific.”

The Deborah Project

Lowenthal Marcus said, “We are in touch with Jewish families, mainly in California, who have seen real hostility towards Jews and the Jewish state blow up since October 7th. We try to assist as many Jewish families so they understand their legal rights when it comes to these schools because we’ve seen administrators try to get away with not providing documents by throwing around legal terms, when, in actuality, these people are entitled to the material that they are paying for with their taxes.”

On why they sent the PRA request to SUHSD, Lowenthal Marcus said, “Part of the reason is for education: we would love to see where this antisemitic material is coming from, who is creating it, and who is funding it.”

“We are committed to doing everything we can to stop the teaching of antisemitic materials in the classroom. If we find problematic things and they are not resolved in another way, we will go to court.”

Deborah Project Legal Director Lori Lowenthal Marcus

The Deborah Project is currently engaged in at least three lawsuits, with two in the Bay Area: one against Mountain View-Los Altos School District (MVLA), and the other against Hayward Unified School District (HUSD). 

After MVLA contracted the Acosta Educational Partnership to train Ethnic Studies teachers, the Deborah Project sent a PRA request for—among other things—all public records related to teaching about or preparing to teach about “Ethnic Studies, Zionism, Zionists, Israel, Palestine, Palestinians, Arabs, and Arab-Americans.” MVLA didn’t provide a determination on the PRA request as legally required and the Deborah Project filed a lawsuit after 14 weeks in order to get them to comply. 

After HUSD hired the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (LESMCC), the Deborah Project sent a PRA request to the district, but HUSD did not respond to the PRA in the legal time frame, causing the Deborah Project to file a lawsuit against HUSD as well.

According to Lowenthal Marcus, both MVLA and HUSD further failed to respond to the lawsuit in the legally required time and did not respond until she emailed members of the school boards. 

The M-A Chronicle sent a PRA request to MVLA for information relating to their case with the Deborah Project but MVLA appears to have illegally denied the request. 

The Deborah Project is currently suing LESMCC, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the United Teachers of Los Angeles, and multiple individuals, to force the disclosure of and prevent the use of “overtly racist and antisemitic teaching material” in LAUSD. 

Lowenthal Marcus said that LESMCC’s content “maliciously presents Israel’s creation as an act of colonialism by white settlers (i.e. Jewish Israelis) who engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the ‘indigenous Palestinians’ and have created an Apartheid State, all of which is factually false.” 

An allegedly antisemitic lesson from the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium.
Part of a model lesson plan for Liberated Ethnic Studies. Source: The Deborah Project’s court filing, evidence F-3. Highlighting added.
A Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium description of Zionism.
LESMCC materials from their “Teach Palestine Toolkit”. Source: The Deborah Project’s court filing, evidence A-5. Highlighting added.


SUHSD told the Deborah Project it anticipates starting to provide documents for the Deborah Project’s most recent PRA by March 1st, and the Zachor Legal Institute by April 2nd. 

Lowenthal Marcus said, “We have not filed anything yet” against SUHSD.

Arden Margulis is a junior and in his second year of journalism at the M-A Chronicle. He is the M-A Chronicle's Webmaster. During his first year, Arden wrote a two-part series on Paper Tutoring, which won First Place News Story from Santa Clara University. Arden was a finalist for Writer of the Year from the National Scholastic Press Association. Arden writes the M-A Chronicle's weekly newsletter Bear Tracks and is currently managing Public Records Act requests to three school districts and two public agencies.

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