When Jesse Schwartz got fired from his teaching job at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, administrators at the Main Line private school said it was because he had violated the school’s social media policy by criticizing the institution.
In that meeting, they showed him three of his own tweets, according to his lawyer, Mark D. Schwartz:
“young jews are worth saving from the morally and intellectually corroding clutches of zionism! idk how to do this but i’m gonna try to do it lol,” said one.
“i sort of do the opposite of what the CIA does in the sense that i am infiltrating a right wing institution instead of a left wing institution and also instead of successfully sabotaging and disappearing activists i am just going to like, get fired after maybe changing 1 kid’s mind,” said another.
On that same day last month, Barrack’s head of school, Sharon P. Levin, sent out a letter to the school community “[affirming] how the Israelis have the right to exercise power.” At the time, Israel was at war with Hamas. Israel’s attacks, by then, had killed 69 Palestinians, while attacks by Hamas had killed seven Israelis.
“As tensions and attacks increase, we reaffirm our solidarity and support for the State of Israel, and we pray for calm and peace to be restored and that no more lives will be lost,” Levin wrote. She did not reference Palestinians.
The firing of Schwartz, who is 27 and unrelated to his attorney, cuts to the heart of several issues that have divided the country, including Zionism, Israel’s national ideology. In the last month, people have more frequently criticized media outlets such as the New York Times for their coverage, saying that the media’s obsession with the appearance of impartiality reflected a pro-Israel bias.
Schwartz’s firing also raises questions like: What can workers say online? What kinds of political values can teachers profess? And who’s really behind “cancel culture”?
Barrack’s chief operating officer, Alex Stroker, said that the school does not comment on “personnel matters.” The school, formerly known as Akiba Hebrew Academy, has graduated a number of public figures, including filmmaker Alison Klayman, CNN anchor Jake Tapper, and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Jesse Schwartz, who taught English at Barrack and recently completed his masters’ in English literature at Villanova University, declined to comment.
His Twitter account did not reference the school by name or have his real name on it. His tweets are a particular brand of dry, leftist humor found on corners of the internet among young people who would identify as “extremely online.” The third tweet shown to Schwartz when he was fired read: “i’m also gonna try to make [the students] socialists and ******** the faculty”” (Schwartz was referring to unionizing the faculty, his lawyer said.)
Mark Schwartz, who said he is considering the teacher’s legal options, said he hoped the firing of the teacher, who is Jewish, was not politically motivated, citing the school’s professed commitment to diversity and pluralism.
“Are we really promoting diversity?” he asked. “Or are we just embracing some right-wing, pro-Netanyahu, pro-Trump approach to life?”
Last month, the Associated Press fired news associate Emily Wilder for violating its social media policy after conservative media outlets targeted the recent Stanford graduate, writing news articles about her pro-Palestinian activism and criticism of Zionism in college and saying her college activism raised questions about her objectivity.
“There’s no question I was just canceled,” Wilder told SFGate last month.
In 2017, two teachers at Friends Central School, another private school on the Main Line, were fired after they invited a Palestinian professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College to speak to a student group. Professor Sa’ed Atshan’s talk was called off when some parents and students complained that Atshan was an anti-Israel activist. Though Friends Central is Quaker, many Jewish students attend the school.
Mark Schwartz represented the teachers in a lawsuit against Friends Central. It settled last year.