What can be done about antisemitic diatribes as U.S. school board meetings get out of hand?
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
A Jew-hating woman’s tirade has triggered debate across the U.S. about antisemitism, free speech and how to keep increasingly rancorous school board meetings from spiraling out of control.
The Chandler Unified School District, a suburb of Phoenix, is where Melanie Rattler went over her allotted time to rant about Jews, vaccines and critical race theories during an October. 27 meeting. Local reports noted that Rattler, who identified herself as a veterinarian, a former teacher and a “cloning expert,” isn’t even a Chandler parent but lives in nearby Queen Creek.
Nothing about vaccines, critical race theory — or Jews — was on the meeting’s agenda. The bulk of the meeting dealt with budget and procurement issues. The board was updated on a literacy initiative. Student council leaders talked about their activities. And several exchange students from abroad introduced themselves.
Rettler denounced vaccines and critical theory before finally accusing Jews of profiteering off the pandemic. A video of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting shows Rettler sounding increasingly emotional as she slammed the Jews.
“Every one of these things, the deep state, the cabal, the swamp, the elite — you can’t mention it, but I will — there is one race that owns all the pharmaceutical companies, and these vaccines aren’t safe, they aren’t effective and they aren’t free,” Rettler said.
“You know that you’re paying for it through the increase in gas prices, the increase in food prices — you’re paying for this and it’s being taken from your money and being given to these pharmaceutical companies and if you want to bring race into this: It’s the Jews.”
With the two-minute tirade finished, Rettler left the room to a slight smattering of applause. It wasn’t clear from the video if that was in support of her remarks or relief that she was leaving.
Jews Are ‘Not Something We Can Do Something About’?
Before the next person spoke, board president Barb Mozdzen told the gathering, “Comments really need to be related to what the school board can do something about, and this was not something we can do something about. So please have your comments with something that is within our jurisdiction.”
Jewish groups criticized Mozdzen for not cutting Rettler off sooner or refuting her misinformation.
The Arizona chapter of the Israel American Council issued a statement asking that “in the future, the board members themselves speak up the very moment such hateful lies are expressed.”
“Our history teaches us that allowing such racism to pass unchallenged only invites more of the same,” the council’s statement added.
But according to the Arizona Republic, it isn’t so simple.
“Open meeting laws limit board members’ ability to respond to public comments, while members of the public have flexibility, depending on the district’s rules, to discuss issues that aren’t school-related.”
The paper added that while school board meetings must be opened to the public to observe, there is no requirement that the public be allowed to participate.
School board meetings across the U.S. have become increasingly disrupted in recent months as people launch into tirades about mask mandates, Columbus Day, transgender bathrooms and, in Fort Meyers, Fla., “demonic entities.”
One man’s diatribe against masks at a board meeting in Edinburg, Texas led to his arrest for disorderly conduct. A school board meeting in Loudon, Virginia, got so out of hand police had to clear the room before the board could continue. Other board members say they have been harassed.
In September, the National School Boards Association compared threats to school board members to domestic terrorism and asked the Biden administration to investigate. The NSBA apologized when it became clear that most of the letter’s cited incidents didn’t involve physical violence and local boards said they had not been consulted.