How Parents, Students Reacted to Their School Leaders Testifying on the Hill

Tim O’Brien, the father of a senior at Berkeley High School in California and a supporter of the Palestinian cause, watched the congressional hearing on antisemitism on Wednesday involving the school district’s superintendent, Enikia Ford Morthel. In his eyes, she was “a rock star.”

Three thousand miles away on Capitol Hill, another Berkeley High parent, Ilana Pearlman, who is Jewish, watched the same testimony in person and could not believe her ears, particularly the part where Ms. Ford Morthel said that antisemitism is “not pervasive” in the school district.

Republican lawmakers accused the leaders of school districts in Berkeley, New York City and Montgomery County, Md., of responding inadequately to antisemitism in public schools while the administrators fiercely defended themselves and their policies. Afterward, local reaction to the hearing seemed to hinge on one’s views going in, with few minds changed and some questioning whether the proceeding had been worth the time.

Mr. O’Brien, who watched the hearing over coffee and muffins with about 10 other pro-Palestinian parents in a classroom at the University of California, Berkeley, disapproved of the hearing in general but thought Ms. Ford Morthel had weathered it well.

“It was like the Salem witch trials,” he said, adding that the hearings were a distraction from the devastation in Gaza. But he said it was right for educators to teach their students about the war with Israel and the importance of Palestinian liberation. And he thought Ms. Ford Morthel had conveyed that message effectively.

“We were all hoping that her personality and charm and compassion and intelligence would somehow find a way to come through in that kind of noxious environment, and she did not disappoint,” he said.

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