Genocide education bill sparks high emotions in hearing
Last updated 2/16/2024 at 1:32pm
People held hands between armrests as they waited to tell the stories of loved ones lost to genocide.
Almost every seat in the hearing room was filled, and 67 people were scheduled to speak. Prime sponsor Sen. John Braun R-Centralia, and co-sponsor Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, approached the podium to introduce the bill.
“For me and many in the Jewish community this is not just an academic matter. This is an intimate and deeply personal matter that has affected our families,” Salomon said, pausing to gather his emotions. “I was hoping to avoid the tearjerker moments.”
Salomon then recounted his family's story of escaping the Holocaust.
“The legacy of discrimination continues today, and following the attacks on Oct. 7, I perceived a rise in antisemitism not just from the right but also from the left on campuses and in our streets,” Solomon said.
Solomon spoke in favor of the bill, which would designate April as “International Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month” and make a Holocaust curriculum mandatory in public schools. A bill passed unanimously in 2019 encouraging adoption but did not require it. The 2019 bill also did not explicitly name “other genocides.”
Paul Regelbrugge, Director of Education for the Holocaust Center for Humanity, said it is time to require the teaching of the Holocaust.
“We’ve only gotten so far, however, with strongly encourage,” Regelbrugge said. “Passage of this bill will send a clear signal that the state of Washington has zero tolerance for hatred and that the best way to recognize humanity in all of us, and confront hatred born of ignorance, is through proven quality education about the consequences of unchecked hatred.”
Braun and Salomon said the generational gap in knowledge is wide. Braun cited a 50-state survey which found 63% of millennials and Gen Zs were not aware that “six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.”
While few opposed educating people on the horrors of genocide, many pointed out the Jewish people are not the only ones to have suffered atrocities.
“I propose an amendment that explicitly names other genocides worldwide that should be taught in our schools without giving priority to one over another,” Selma Porca, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide, said. “This amendment is not meant to reduce the significance of teaching about the Holocaust by any means. It just aims for representation and inclusiveness in our education approach, acknowledging all communities impacted by genocide.”
Other genocides mentioned by people were the Bosnian genocide, Darfur genocide, Cambodian genocide, Rohingya genocide, Rwandan genocide, as well as current ongoing wars.
“I’m particularly concerned about this bill because it only talks about the Holocaust, and as a Jew, I am concerned that never again is now,” said Rebeca Arev, a former public-school teacher. “What is happening in Palestine, the Israeli genocide of Palestinians, is what we always said would never happen again.”
In light of recent movements away from “Eurocentric” ideas, other people asked to not label this curriculum as ‘ethnic studies,’ given the Holocaust happened in Europe. Others asked that the bill mention U.S. history when teaching of genocide.
“If anything should be called out, it should be the genocide of the Indigenous people of the Americas committed by the U.S. government,” Dr. Tracy Castro-Gill, of Washington Ethnic Studies Now, said.
A South Seattle Jewish parent, Hanna Lidman, also recalled her own experience with antisemitism. She remembers a holocaust survivor coming to speak at her high school.
Lidman noted that only after this educational experience did her peers stop asking if her Star of David necklace meant “she worshiped Satan,” and stopped drawing swastikas on her locker.
Others suggested asking other community stakeholders to help develop a curriculum, since the Holocaust Center for Humanity was the only organization involved in building the curriculum in 2019.
Also testifying was Cindy Corrie, mother of Rachel Corrie, a former Olympia resident and activist for Palestinians who was tragically killed by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes.
“In principle I’m very supportive of an education bill that brings genocide and what that is all about to students at appropriate age levels,” Correy said. “I thought it was important to emphasize that there are multiple ones, Bosnian, Cambodian, Rohingyan, currently Palestinian, so I just want to make sure that as we go forward, we have a curriculum for our students that really addresses all of the genocides.”
At the end of the hearing, one person yelled “free Palestine” as they left the room.