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Facing History and Ourselves

Facing History and Ourselves develops educational materials and curricula for K-12 educators. Although educators and school districts often point to Facing History and Ourselves as a progressive option for teaching about US history, in reality the organization's materials and curricula only provide a more progressive cover for the same harmful narratives that reinforce American racism and US empire, while also celebrating Israel and propagandizing for Zionism.

Materials and curricula Facing History and Ourselves offers on slavery, colonialism, and police brutality approach these institutions of mass violence as painful episodes within an otherwise positive project of American democracy (episodes which must be "faced"), without challenging or advocating for the dismantling of the fundamentally white supremacist and colonial character of the US state, US Empire, or the US-dominated global capitalist system, which these institutions exist and have existed to uphold.

Facing History and Ourselves encourages K-12 educators to use material which valorizes Israel and highlights the experiences of Israelis, while remaining generally silent on the experiences of Palestinians. A keyword search of the term "Palestine" on the organization's website yields only a couple documents which mention Palestinians at all, with the vast majority of search results detailing Jewish histories during the pre-1948 era (at which time Europeans and Zionist settlers still referred to historic Palestine as "Palestine"). When Facing History and Ourselves does provide content about Palestinians, the organization encourages K-12 educators to teach about the (so-called) "complexity" of the "conflict" between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, refusing to acknowledge the stark power differentials that exist between Palestinians living under and resisting Israeli settlement and apartheid and Israeli settlers maintaining and materially benefiting from these conditions. In a May 2021 "Message for Educators on the Crisis in Israel and Palestine," for example, Facing History and Ourselves suggested that "to help you and your students understand the roots, causes, and impact of these events," K-12 educators should utilize three resources from the Council on Foreign Relations, the US Institute of Peace, and AllSides, all of which are pro-US and pro-Zionism. See also this analysis of Facing History and Ourselves' educational materials and curricula.

Tellingly, Facing History and Ourselves presented at a 2019 event hosted by AIPAC New England. AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is a pro-Israel organization focused on pressuring US elected officials to adopt and maintain pro-Israel positions. AIPAC holds considerable power in the US congress as well as state governments, through their use of lobbying, propaganda, and large political campaign donations. (See entry on AIPAC New England.) Moreover, AIPAC aligns itself with the most hawkish elements of the US security state. Facing History and Ourselves' collaboration with AIPAC (as well as their suggestion of resources from the Council on Foreign Relations, noted above) belies not only Facing History's Zionist politics, but also the shallowness of Facing History's stated commitment to "facing" or challenging American racism and US empire.

Facing History and Ourselves' strictly Zionist political orientation may be at least partially explained by the organization's funding sources and leadership. Boston hedge-fund billionaire and Zionist mega-donor Seth Klarman is a co-chair of Facing History and Ourselves' Board of Trustees. Seth Klarman along with his wife Beth Klarman also sit on Facing History's Leadership Council (Seth Klarman is Emeritus Chair of the Leadership Council). Meanwhile, the Klarman Family Foundation, which Seth and Beth Klarman fund and manage, donated a total of $22,865,663 to Facing History and Ourselves from fiscal years 2001-2019. In the years FY14 and FY15, $2 million of Klarman Family Foundation's donations to Facing History and Ourselves were explicitly earmarked to be used by Facing History "to strengthen the Jewish community and support a Jewish democratic state of Israel."

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