Sunday, June 4, 2006
Readers will recall efforts over the past year or so to have the City of Somerville, Massachusetts divest itself of holdings in investments in the State of Israel. See multiple posts here.
Well, Somerville divestment was defeated, but one of its leading lights, Andover High School physics teacher, Ron Francis, is still making headlines.
Hamas is consistently called a terrorist organization while Israeli actions funded by the US, representing far more and far worse violent "terrorist" activities go virtually unmentioned - and I have listened to and read many stories on this matter.
It is never discussed why it is that many people around the world view Israel's colonial project since fall of 1947 - ethnic cleansing followed by apartheid with subsequent denial of fundamental rights including the right of return - as fundamentally illegitimate. A distinction is never made between questioning the existence of "apartheid Israel" and "Israel"; the question of the validity of a Jewish-priviledge state is never raised.
Virtually the whole world knows that the Right of Return if one of the key issues if not THE key issue in the conflict...
It's no surprise to find a leader of the SDP defending Hamas's interests. The SDP is, by many accounts, dominated by a group so radical that it's driven some of their long-term supporters away -- the New England Committee to Defend Palestine [NECDP]. The NECDP is a group who's goal is unequivocal -- the destruction of Israel. Among other things, they think Iranian leader Ahmadinejad's call for the destruction of Israel is a sensible idea, for instance.
A description of the scene after the Somerville Board of Aldermen voted down divestment the first time may help illustrate the extreme nature of the SDP and their tendency towards zealotry:
Get the picture? Let's fast forward to today, or this April to be exact, when a former student of Francis' wrote a letter to the Andover paper, the Townsman (what follows is a significant excerpt -- follow the link and scroll down for the complete letter): Former student questions teacher's views on Hamas
Decent people around the world are busy condemning Hamas, a group whose official charter states, "The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: 'O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.'"
Francis is a member of the organization Somerville Divestment Project (SDP), a local pro-Palestinian group that seeks to force Somerville to divest money from Israel bonds...
...It is difficult for me to remain unbiased regarding this issue. Not only am I a former student of Francis, but I have personal experience with Hamas. On Jan. 29, 2004, a bomb exploded on the street I was living on in Jerusalem. At first I thought my fiancee (now my wife) might have been killed, and minutes later I ran to the scene. I saw a decimated bus (blown up by a Palestinian homicide bomber), with corpses and body parts strewn around the street. There was blood everywhere, and those who were wounded struggled and screamed in pain. Eleven human beings lost their lives in that attack on my former street, and 44 people were wounded. Hamas proudly claimed responsibility for the bombing.
This is one of many terrorist attacks that Hamas, the organization that Ron Francis defends from alleged media bias, has perpetrated. Francis' defense of this organization, and his involvement with the SDP in Somerville, raises some troubling questions: How can a teacher defend a group that deliberately murders civilians, including children? Is a defender of an anti-Semitic terror organization fit to teach students? Does Francis plan on expanding the SDP into Andover? Why does Francis, an outspoken advocate of free speech, defend a group that chooses bombings over dialogue?...
The letter prompted a formal article by the paper: Students involved in teacher's cause (emphasis mine)
While he acknowledges that four Andover High students have worked for the Somerville Divestment Project, a non-profit organization that protests the policies of the Israeli government, Francis, a Somerville resident and board member of SDP, sees nothing wrong with the students' involvement. He calls any allegations of anti-Semitic activity "bogus nonsense and anti-intellectual."...
...Both the Andover High School principal and teachers' union president praise Francis for being an exceptional teacher who does not bring his personal interests into the classroom.
But Somerville resident Natalie Vieira believes she has proof that he has. Vieira said that in August 2005, a young man, "friendly and polite," came to her house and asked her to sign a petition to force the city to divest its pension funds from Israeli bonds and companies that supply military equipment to Israel. The petition was on behalf of the Somerville Divestment Project.
Francis was listed as a coordinator of the petition drive. The petition campaign died when sponsors failed to return the required 4,000 signatures (10 percent of the registered voters) needed to put the issue on the November ballot.
"I asked (the petitioner) if he was from Somerville," Vieira recalled. "He said 'No, I go to Andover High School.'"
When she asked him what he was doing so far away from Andover, according to Vieira, the AHS student said he was "doing a favor for a teacher."
That teacher was Francis, who says SDP is nothing more than a non-profit pro-human rights organization.
"I don't control what non-profits our students work for in the summer or during the school year," said Francis. "Some work for Red Cross, some work for SDP. Students have the right to work for whatever organizations they want to work for."
He added that three other AHS students, one of them Jewish, and all of them part of an after school group called "Students for Justice in the Middle East," had also canvassed for SDP. Francis, an informal advisor of the student-led group, said they were paid $8 to $10 per hour for doing so...
And, of course, it's all just a coincidence that kids from Andover (a town well north of Boston and Somerville), would choose the Somerville Divestment Project as a place to spend their extracurricular time. Someone (Francis) has recruited these kids to go out and pound the pavement for a radical group. They didn't just pick it out of the Yellow Pages.
"It would concern us all if any teacher's personal interests were brought into the classroom to influence students," he added.
When Anderson was informed that Francis told the Townsman that four AHS students had canvassed in Somerville on behalf of SDP, the principal had "no comment at this time."
While Francis said he has never discussed his political position during his physics classes, he has shared some of his views with AHS students.
"I don't think you can implement a rule that would not allow teachers to tell students how they feel," he said. "Now you're starting to deal with the First Amendment. We're an academic institution. Free discourse has to be allowed."...
As well it should, but Andover High School is not a research university. Francis is employed to teach physics to a captive audience of students, not introduce and indoctrinate them in his highly controversial political activities. While even many university teachers seem to tread the line of forgetting their real purpose and imagining that they are at university as paid, unaccountable political activists, free of criticism, it seems to me that the bar should be far lower and firmer for grade-school teachers who overlap their political activities with their High School campus life as it appears Francis clearly has -- even given his protests to have kept his opinions out of the classroom itself.
"(Francis) said he is pro-human rights, but his literature says otherwise," said SMEJ member Anna Krasko. "He aligns himself with the most rejectionist forces in the Middle East."
Krasko called some of the articles posted on SDP's Web site "reminiscent of what was coming out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s."
She said one such article described the genetic make-up of Jews and denied that Jews of European origin have any connection to ancient Jews or to Israel.
Francis pointed to a disclaimer on the Web site, which states: "SDP does not necessarily endorse the material on this Web site unless it is an official SDP statement." He added that articles on the Web site are merely "academic pieces" to provoke thought and discussion...
Krasko's letter can be found on this page. SDP has a link, for instance, to the web page of Karin Friedemann, (a.k.a. Maria Hussain), an individual who, along with her husband, cranks out anti-semitic screeds so raw that even the Islamic Society of Boston was forced to distance themselves from her. The SDP has no such scruples...or shame.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the head of the Andover Teacher's Union, Tom Meyers, is not only defending Francis on his free-speech rights, but on the merits of his political activity itself: Union head: Teacher is 'defender of human rights' (scroll down).
I have often posted on extremists in academia, but it has almost always been someone abusing a university setting. This is one of the rare times when it's a High School hosting such extremism. I do not use the term lightly, either, by just applying it to someone who's views I disagree with. Those already familiar with, or who choose to familiarize themselves with, the Somerville divestment issue, and who spend some time cruising the SDP site and those of their affiliates and their links, the writings of some of their members and leaders, like those who feel compelled to write essays attempting to blunt the moral outrage we feel toward suicide bombing -- those folks will find that the term "extremist" is actually a moderate and accurate label in this case.
I don't suggest a prescription here, but there is clearly a problem, and a big one. I do know that crying free speech (an important cry!) when there is strong evidence that a High School teacher may be abusing his position to involve students in radical political activity is insufficient.
Cross-posted at Hub Politics
Update 6/8/06: More here.
Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: The Andover Teacher Who Supported Hamas -- and Got His Students to Help.
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Readers may recall efforts over the past year or two to have the City of Somerville, Massachusetts divest itself of holdings in investments in the State of Israel. See multiple posts here. Well, Somerville divestment was defeated, but one of... Read More