April 18, 2024 12:33 pm

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Bipartisan bill making Holocaust education compulsory introduced

OLYMPIA—Senate Republican Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) and Senator Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) introduced legislation on December 15 requiring Holocaust education within schools to combat the rise of antisemitic sentiments in Washington.

John Braun

“The urgency for this bill was created by the attack on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent pro-Hamas demonstrations, increases in antisemitism, and even calls for genocide we are witnessing on our college campuses,” Senator Braun wrote in a statement to the Lynnwood Times.

Senator Salomon, who serves on the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force Advisory Group, has been a vocal critic of college presidents not condemning antisemitism on campuses.

Jesse Salomon

“As someone whose family was deeply and traumatically impacted by the Holocaust, I welcome this bi-partisan opportunity to use the lessons of the past to re- establish norms based on our commonalities and an understanding of the horrors that could arise should we fail this mission,” wrote Salomon in statement. “Unless we teach the lessons from the Holocaust, which provide a stark illustration of what could happen, we may fail to prevent its reoccurrence in some form or fashion.”

The bill, SB-5851, gives Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) until July 1, 2027, to require Jewish Holocaust curriculum in all K-12 public schools. Upon bill passage, April will be designated international genocide prevention and awareness month to formally recognize the Holocaust and other genocides. Also, students between grades six through 12 will be offered an optional stand-alone elective on Holocaust and genocide education.

Both Braun and Salomon believe Holocaust education is the key to closing a generational gap on the perception of antisemitism and their views of Jewish people. More than 80% of a first-ever 50-state survey of people in the Millennial and Gen Z generations believe more education about the Holocaust is needed.

Holocaust education
Holocaust Center for Humanity, photo by Aaron Leitz, courtesy of Olson Kundig.

“There is a rising tide of antisemitism, and I believe that it is due in large part to the lack of education and understanding among our young people,” Braun said. “A recent survey found that 63% of Millennials and Gen Z members don’t know that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. We do a disservice to our students and to our state if we allow this ignorance to persist.”

The survey also found that nearly 36% of Millennials and Gen Z thought the death toll of the Holocaust was less than 2 million and 11% of the respondents thought the Jews were to blame.

The generational divide on the perception of antisemitism and their views of Jewish people were echoed in a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll conducted between December 13-14. It reported that 67% of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 believe Jews are an oppressor class and should be treated as such, while 73 percent of all voters disagreed with this sentiment.  Within the same poll, 62% of all respondents stated that university presidents did not go far enough to condemn antisemitism on their campuses in their Congressional testimony; while, in contrast, 67% of those ages 18-24 stated that the presidents did go far enough.

“While the events of October 7 were the driving force in me introducing this legislation, the details of the bill go back years, reflecting the work of the Holocaust Center for Humanity and OSPI in its 2019 report to the Legislature,” said Braun.

According to the United States Department of Justice, of the 2,042 reported incidents of religious-based hate crimes in 2022, 55% or 1,122 were driven by anti-Jewish bias.

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