Holocaust education bill proposed as antisemitic incidents increase

Jan 17, 2024, 4:47 PM | Updated: 6:23 pm

holocaust education...

Atmosphere at The Holocaust Museum And Study Center Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting at the Bronx High School of Science on April 19, 2013 in New York City. (Photo: Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

(Photo: Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

Washington lawmakers heard mixed opinions Tuesday about a bill regarding education involving the Holocaust and other genocides in public middle, junior high and high schools.

Senate Bill 5851 “strongly encourages” schools to include curriculum instruction on the Holocaust, the systematic persecution and murder of Jewish people and other victims by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. However, the bill also stated that schools “may” cover other examples of genocide and crimes against humanity.

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“We’ve seen a growth in antisemitism around our country and, sadly, in our state over several years,” Sen. John Braun, the bill’s Republican co-sponsor, said. “And this is something we can and should do something about.”

At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education Wednesday, Sen. Jesse Solomon, the bill’s Democratic co-sponsor, told lawmakers his grandparents “barely survived” the Holocaust.

“Following the attacks on Oct. 7, I perceived a rise in antisemitism,” Solomon said. “Not just from the left, but also from the right.”

Israel has vowed to dismantle Hamas to ensure it can never repeat an attack like the one on Oct. 7 that triggered the war. Militants burst through Israel’s border defenses and stormed through several communities that day, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and capturing around 250.

It was clear from the start there was a lot of interest from a variety of people. A total of 66 people signed up to testify, but roughly only 20 were heard. Lisa Wellman, the Democratic committee chair, warned the hearing that time constraints would limit public testimony to just 30 minutes. Nine-hundred thirty-eight people logged themselves as either pro, con or other, with a slight majority in the pro column for the bill.

Many want other genocide education included in bill

The majority of those who testified considered themselves in the “other” category, saying the bill needs to put equal emphasis on the teaching of other genocides and wartime atrocities, not just the Holocaust.

Salma Porca told lawmakers she survived the “war crimes against humanity” that took place all around Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.

“In light of my experiences, and in the spirit of diversity, equity and inclusion, I propose an amendment to Senate Bill 5851 that explicitly names other genocides worldwide that should be taught in our schools without giving priority to one over another,” Porca said.

Tracy Castro-Gill, Ph.D., who is the executive director of Washington Ethnic Studies Now, testified against the bill and said it focuses on the death and oppression of marginalized people. They specifically called out the United States for committing genocides against the “indigenous people of the Americas.”

Castro-Gill told the committee, “Other genocides in Korea, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Ethiopia, Sudan, Venezuela” should be included.

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But once they called the Gaza War a genocide against Palestinians by the Israel Defense Force (IDF), Chairperson Wellman stopped the testimony.

“I do think that the names that you have mentioned are exactly why we’ve added genocide education (to the bill),” Wellman said. “The Holocaust is one example, but obviously, genocide is with us, and we must address it.”

The legislation mandates the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), in collaboration with a nonprofit organization, develop best practices and guidelines for high-quality instruction. Schools offering Holocaust and genocide instruction must follow these guidelines. The legislation designates April of each year as International Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month.

During this month, public schools are required to conduct or promote age-appropriate educational activities that provide instruction, awareness and understanding of the Holocaust and genocide education to all students.

These activities may include classroom instruction, guest speaker presentations, school assemblies and other developmentally appropriate activities.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Holocaust education bill proposed as antisemitic incidents increase