October 19, 2020
Dear School Board of Palm Beach County,
I write on behalf of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, which has been combating antisemitism for more than 114 years. As Director of AJC’s Palm Beach County Region and the proud parent of a Palm Beach County School District alumnus, I thank you for reconsidering your decision to reinstate former principal William Latson.
Mr. Latson claimed, “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.” “Actually,” as my colleague, AJC Chief Advocacy Officer Dan Elbaum, noted, “if you can’t say that the Holocaust is a ‘factual historical event,’ you have no business being a school district employee.” Our students deserve educators committed to teaching the Holocaust as a historical fact—without equivocation. A powerful way of showing that commitment would be by rescinding the vote taken at the October 7 special meeting and revoking the reinstatement of Mr. Latson.
Despite Florida’s Holocaust education mandate, knowledge of the most documented genocide in history is waning. In a major recent survey, our state had one of the worst Holocaust knowledge scores in the country—where 61% of Millennials and Gen Z adults did not know six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and 50% did not know what Auschwitz was. Holocaust denial only exacerbates this alarming problem. Consequently, numerous efforts have been made both internationally and locally to challenge this manifestation of antisemitism.
When the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016 adopted what has since become by far the most authoritative and universally accepted working definition of antisemitism, Holocaust denial was incorporated to clearly identify its antisemitic animus. Florida Statutes (K-20 Education Code, Section 1000.05) make it clear that “accusing Jews as a people or the State of Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust” is a distinct example of antisemitism. The problem was recently addressed by Facebook and Twitter as well, when both announced last week they will remove all Holocaust denial and distortion posts from their platforms.
Let there be no mistake about it: Asserting neutrality with respect to the existence of the Holocaust does not make one “politically neutral,” as Mr. Latson claimed. It peddles Holocaust denial, which itself is unadulterated antisemitism. It is recognized as such by Florida’s K-20 Education Code as well as by the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. It is banned from Facebook and Twitter. It must be banned from Palm Beach County schools as well.
By rescinding your October 7 vote to reinstate Mr. Latson, the Palm Beach County School District will send a strong message to our community and to the nation that it does not tolerate antisemitism, that it rejects Holocaust denial, and that Holocaust education is an essential component of our curriculum.
Thank you for reconsidering your decision on this important matter and please reach out if AJC can serve as a resource in any way.
Laurence R. Milstein
Director, AJC Palm Beach County Region