An Alpharetta middle school’s multicultural night Thursday prompted a letter from the principal to parents voicing disapproval of a political display and informing them that an investigation was underway.
A display at Autrey Mill Middle School represented the culture of Palestinians and included a map that appears to show the outline of Palestine before Israel was recognized as a nation.
In an image of the map circulated on social media, no other contextual information can be seen with the map, which omits Israel entirely, causing many to interpret it as an insult to Israel.
The history of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians spans centuries and includes a disagreement of who has the right to what lands, which is why something seemingly as simple as a map sparked outrage for the school and community.
“I am extremely disappointed and disgusted with the individuals who presented an insensitive political and geographic representation. This display does not represent our school culture, which is one that values inclusion and unity,” wrote Autrey Mill principal J.E. Trey Martin in his letter to parents.
He wrote that “families sign up in advance for space to display artifacts and serve food representing their culture.” Martin added that more than 500 people and 15 different countries were represented.
In the photo that was circulated, beside the map was a tapestry of “Handala,” a cartoon character created by Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali depicting a young Palestinian boy living with the long-standing conflict. The cartoonist, who used Handala as his signature, was shot and killed in August 1987 outside the London offices of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas.
In the principal’s letter to parents, Martin added: “We condemn this attempt to use our Multicultural Night for one’s own political or religious agenda ... This school is here for kids, not politics.”
He wrote that the school would “comprehensively investigate this incident and any necessary actions will be taken including accountability for those responsible.”
When asked who provided the display, whether it was a student, parent or staff member, Fulton County Schools spokeswoman Susan Romanick said Friday afternoon that the district is still determining who brought the display.
Rabbi Jordan Ottenstein, who heads Congregation Dor Tamid about 3½ miles from the school, said his synagogue’s president met with school officials Friday morning.
Ottenstein sent a letter to his congregation to “condemn in the strongest possible terms any display in public that is anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, or anti-Semitic.”
“Disagreements over policies and political differences must never succumb to this level of visceral hatred and it is so sad that a night devoted to the education of cultural differences was dragged to these depths,” Ottenstein wrote.
The rabbi noted how poignant the timing was, as the weekly Torah portion that will be read aloud at synagogues throughout the world is the last reading from the book of Exodus that chronicles the departure of the Jewish people from modern-day Egypt.
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