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Bartlett High School suspends yearbook over alleged anti-Semitic photo

Days after Bartlett High School halted distribution of its yearbook due to a prominent image that school officials considered anti-Semitic, a Change.org petition amassed more than 1,400 signatures opposing the decision, while some students addressed the content of the images. images at a board of education meeting Monday night.

In an email sent Friday to parents and students, Bartlett High School interim principal Melanie Meidel said administrators immediately suspended distribution to prevent further spread, calling the photo “offensive.”

“One of our top priorities is the well-being and respect of our students, staff and community,” Meidel wrote in the email obtained by the Tribune. “Unfortunately, we have realized that a photograph containing text considered anti-Semitic was printed in the yearbook. We will work to remove the page with the photo and will inform students and families when we resume yearbook distribution.”

In the email, Meidel did not confirm which photo was flagged, although members of the school’s Muslim Student Association say they believe the photo in question, obtained by the Tribune, is of a group of students holding a Palestinian flag and two posters at the school’s multicultural festival in March. A sign says “from the river to the sea” written on the other side, with Arabic text below reiterating the latter.

Many pro-Palestinian activists say “from the river to the sea” is a call for peace and equality after 75 years of Israeli statehood and decades of indefinite Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians. Pro-Israel activists often hear a clear demand for the destruction of Israel.

Avi Gordon, executive director of Alums for Campus Fairness, said he and other members of the pro-Israel community believe the term “from the river to the sea” is an anti-Semitic accusation.

“That chant calls for the dismantling of Israel from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west,” Gordon said. “Not only does it make Jewish and Israeli students feel unsafe, it also ostracizes them.”

The other sign the students were holding in the photo reads “hundreds, millions, we are all Palestinians.”

On Friday, after some yearbooks had already been distributed, students in the yearbook club approached some MSA students who helped organize the multicultural festival to ask about the signs in the photo that day, said student Aisha Ali. Bartlett High School senior and MSA member.

“They said they were asking because someone reported the image for inappropriate and offensive content, especially the Arabic text on the image,” Ali said.

This interaction occurred hours before Meidel’s official email went out, according to Ali.

Attempts to contact Bartlett High School yearbook staff were unsuccessful.

In an Instagram post Friday night, the Bartlett High School MSA posted the photo they believe is incorrectly considered anti-Semitic.

The photo shows 16 students dressed in traditional Middle Eastern and South Asian clothing in front of a black wall decorated with small world flags. A group of students hold the Palestinian flag and a couple of students hold signs.

Asraar Siddiqui, a senior at Bartlett High School, said the image was from the “flag walk,” in which students from diverse backgrounds walk with their flags to highlight the school’s diversity.

“None of these posters were created or displayed with malicious intent or anti-Semitic bias, and there is nothing inherently offensive about them,” Siddiqui said.

Uday Jain, a postdoctoral professor at the University of Chicago’s committee on social thought, said Palestine advocates say the slogan is not anti-Semitic, but rather anti-Zionist. To dispel the idea that supporting Palestinians amounts to anti-Jewish hatred, it is essential to differentiate Judaism from Zionist thought, he said.

Jain said students across the country have been seeing the “cruel violence of this extremely harmful racial ideology,” which is why they proudly hold signs countering it.

“So while it may be emotionally uncomfortable and deeply challenging for some people to know that an institution they considered sacrosanct is racist and genocidal in practice, they have no right to silence and criminalize the students who are making this urgent, thoughtful and loving critique.” . —Jain said.

In Friday’s email, Meidel said the administration will review and improve the yearbook approval process to prevent this from happening in the future, considering the severity of the problem.

At Monday night’s District U-46 board meeting in Elgin, some students expressed disappointment in school officials’ decision to halt distribution of the Bartlett yearbook.

“I ask if the Bartlett administration knew (Arabic meaning) before sending a school-wide email calling our image offensive. I like to ask, where exactly are the anti-Semitic notions or beliefs?” said Ryhah Rizvi, senior at Bartlett High School and MSA member, “The posting of this email without consulting us led to a complete misinterpretation of the texts in the photos and made us feel insignificant among other cultures celebrated at the festival multicultural”.

U-46 Superintendent Suzanne Johnson, who chaired Monday night’s board meeting, did not respond to requests for comment, but in an email, district officials said they are working on the matter.

“We are aware of the concerns regarding the Bartlett High School yearbook and are working on a follow-up as we are committed to addressing this matter thoroughly in accordance with our Board Policy. We will share an update very soon with our Bartlett High School students and families,” district officials said.

At Monday night’s meeting, Siddiqui, a former student advisor to the board, spoke about the outpouring of support from community members, parents and alumni on the Bartlett High School MSA Instagram page, including the Change.org petition .

Rizvi, who waited hours to speak at Monday night’s meeting, said she was devastated by the school’s response, which created a problem when there was none.

“It would be pure hypocrisy if the institutions that taught us to speak out were the same ones that are actively trying to silence us,” Rizvi said. “There is nothing discriminatory in the liberation of any people, whether white, black, Arab, Christian, Jewish or Muslim.”

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