JCRC puts brakes on pro-Palestinian groups school program

Oh the wheels on the bus went round and round, like the popular children’s song. But they didn’t get far in the Bay Area.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council is claiming victory in a recent protracted battle with Wheels of Justice, a pro-Palestinian organization whose staff travels in a brightly painted bus, purportedly to provide schoolchildren with education on Mideast issues.

The Wheels of Justice bus had been slated to turn up at schools throughout the region during December and January. A handful of visits did, in fact, take place.

But everywhere the bus went, the JCRC and its allies were one step ahead, thwarting what they saw as Wheels of Justice’s anti-Israel agenda.

The most contentious stop on the itinerary was Davis High School in Davis. Wheels of Justice initially planned to address a high school history class without any balancing pro-Israel voices.

After a flurry of contacts between the JCRC and officials at the school, the presentation was “postponed and significantly restructured to be of a more balanced and appropriate nature for high school students,” says JCRC director of Israel programming Steve Berley.

Uda Walker of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a pro-Palestinian group and co-sponsor of the bus tour, claimed Wheels of Justice was actually uninvited after JCRC pressured the school. “They phoned us and said, ‘We had to disinvite you. You’ve been accused of being biased.’ The JCRC did not want us speaking on anything, period.”

Berley denied this, saying that JCRC simply wanted more balance. The restructured program, set for Jan. 29, was to include side-by-side alternate views of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

At the last minute, however, Wheels of Justice backed out of the rescheduled event. In a written statement, the group said it was “opposed to the types of tactics used by the JCRC … in an attempt to stop us, the school districts and teachers from exercising their rights to free speech. An environment of intimidation, unproven allegations and public slandering is not one we want to be a part of.”

The JCRC stepped in, says Berley, not to censor Wheels of Justice but to make sure students heard both sides.

“Especially in an educational environment, the school has a responsibility to ensure a balanced presentation,” he said. “Otherwise it’s not education, but political indoctrination. They wanted to control the forum, and would only speak on their own terms.”

Davis High School wasn’t the only place the JCRC took on Wheels of Justice.

The group gave a December presentation at the International School, an elementary school in Oakland. Though no counterbalancing pro-Israel view was offered at the time, the JCRC did contact Oakland School District state appointed administrator Randolph Ward, who interceded after the fact.

JCRC received a letter from the district, which, says Berley, expressed “regret for both the appearance of WoJ at the elementary school and the administration’s lack of response to avoid an unfortunate situation. In his letter, [Ward] assured the JCRC that were the principal faced with the decision of bringing WoJ on campus again, she would certainly arrive at a different conclusion.”

Said Berley, “There’s a gigantic difference between high school students debating issues in the Middle East and political indoctrination of kids too young to understand any of this.”

He added that the district promised to use the incident as “an example for training administrators in the future. We opened the eyes of the district and they are determined not to fall into the same trap.”

Finally, the Wheels of Justice bus was set to spend a few days visiting Marin County schools, including San Rafael and Tomales in West Marin. JCRC sent letters to district administrators as well as principals of all San Rafael schools describing, according to Berley, “the true agenda of WoJ and our concerns about their presentation.”

The bus was limited to two presentations — one in a Santa Rosa high school and the other at a private school. In both cases, the JCRC was asked to provide its own presentation to ensure balance. Meanwhile, the Tomales High School visit was canceled by the school district.

When asked whether she understood why JCRC would take the steps it did, Walker said, “We understand that they don’t want information about what’s happening in the occupied territories and Israel to get into the schools. One of our biggest platforms is seeking resolution through non-violence.”

Countered Berley, “Wheels of Justice is sponsored by several organizations, including Al-Awda, which seeks Israel’s destruction. They are also sponsored by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), whose co-founder has written that ‘non-violence is not enough.’ It shows where their roots are.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.