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Holocaust education bill signed in Washington state

April 19, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Schools in Washington will be ‘strongly encouraged’ to teach students about the Holocaust under a bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee Friday, with advocates pointing to a spike in hate crimes as underlining the need for such a curriculum.

The bill won’t require schools to teach the material, but will add it as an encouraged curriculum item for middle schools, junior high schools, and high schools. The state schools superintendent is charged with developing guidelines for teaching the material, and also with creating trainings for teachers.

Hate crimes across the United States spiked 17 percent in 2017 — a rise for the third straight year — with a 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, according to an FBI report released in 2018. A little more than a month after the report was released, a gunman killed 11 in a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Inslee signed the bill Friday morning; it earlier passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Mercer Island Democratic Rep. Tana Senn watched the signing.

“I’m a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, so this is really meaningful,” Senn said.

Senn and others pointed to what they described as an increase in hate and bias crimes around the country in recent years, as well as a trend toward the permission of hate speech toward entire groups or classes of people, especially online.

“All you have to do is go on Facebook and look at what people write from behind their keyboards,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, the sponsor of the bill.

That hate speech not only targets jews, but also groups like immigrants, Rivers said, describing the bill as an effort to inspire compassion in students.

A systematic campaign of genocide waged by Nazi Germany during World War II, the Holocaust period saw the deaths of more than 17 million, including around 6 million Jews, mostly in camps in Germany, Poland, Austria and France. The campaign also targeted the disabled, gays and lesbians, political and religious dissenters, and Soviet citizens.

“At the core of any genocide is otherization,” said Maxima Patashnik, communications director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. The group was a main backer of the legislation. “We have to make sure that we’re not repeating the things that led up to the Holocaust.”

Legislatures in states including Oregon and North Carolina have introduced similar bills, although with stronger provisions: Both would require rather than encourage that schools teach the material.

Rivers said the Washington bill had itself been drafted as a requirement, but was scaled back over what she described as concerns about overloading teachers.

Neither Oregon nor North Carolina’s bill has passed the Legislature in either state.

After signing the bill, Inslee spoke to the gravity of the subject.

“It’s hard to smile given the significance of this, but I do feel that this is something people should feel good about,” Inslee said.

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