Children, by virtue of their age, inexperience and vulnerabilities, are protected by law and custom from exploitation. Except in extraordinary circumstances, parents have the right to have the last word on how the world interacts with their children. That includes children being used for political ends — or it should.
The Frisch School, a Jewish high school in New Jersey, provided a test case. News surfaced last week that Rabbi David Sher, the school’s director of Israel education and advocacy, sent an email to students urging those believing “that the president made the right decision” on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordering the eventual relocation there of the U.S. Embassy to send letters to President Donald Trump expressing their thanks. He even provided a template for the students to cut and paste. “Just remember to sign your name on the bottom,” students were told.
The email noted the letter writing was a project of NORPAC, a rightward leaning, pro-Israel political action committee.
Frisch is the alma mater of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an adviser to the president on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Mideast envoy, had children who graduated from the school last year. But, as is the case more broadly, Trump is not universally popular at the school.
There is something disturbing about the orchestrated letter-writing campaign. Apparently some parents thought so too, and complained to the school’s principal, Rabbi Eli Ciner.
He issued a clarification, saying the letter writing was purely voluntary. But he opened another can of worms by adding, “We often write to our political leaders if we agree, or disagree, with their decisions.” According to Haaretz, some parents disagreed, pointing out that “students had not been encouraged to write letters protesting recent racist remarks allegedly made by the president,” as just one example.
The Haaretz article has drawn criticism over how reporter Judy Maltz obtained information. Critics complained that Maltz drew some of her information from a private Facebook group. Jason Shames, chief executive officer of the Paramus-based Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, said the school was “unfairly targeted.”
We’re not so sure. The fact is that Frisch encouraged its students to take a position on a sensitive political issue without notice to their parents, and certainly without their express consent. That’s not the right way to do things — even if the school’s intentions were honorable.
But Frisch is not the only guilty party. Jewish schools across the country are increasingly using kids for political advocacy and sometimes only notifying parents after the fact.
Whether it’s hosting a state legislator to offer thanks for tuition-funding legislation, busing kids to a state capitol to express their gratitude, taking them to a rally for a photo-op holding signs, or encouraging a politically motivated letter-writing campaign, administrators need to be careful — even if their hearts are in the right place. Children should never be used as political props without their parents’ consent. PJC