State Representative Alma Hernandez, a Democrat representing Arizona’s 3rd district, re-introduced a bill at the start of the legislative session that would make a substantive change to the state’s public school curriculum and have Arizona join 15 other states in mandating Holocaust education in public schools. Presently, there is no law requiring students to be taught about the Nazi atrocities of World War II.
Hernandez has managed to win unanimous support in the House for a Holocaust education mandate and the Senate Committee on Education has followed suit. Now, with just days remaining in the legislative session, the bill is awaiting a floor vote by the Senate. Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in the state have been vocal in support of Hernandez’s bill, urging legislators to send the bill to Governor Doug Ducey.
Ducey has not indicated whether he will support the legislation if passed.
In a press release from Hernandez’s office, the Jewish Mexican-American legislator said it is critical that future generations are educated on the Holocaust and other genocides. She added, “The survivors are getting older and older, many passing away … We owe it to them and their memories to make sure students learn about what they endured.”
Research shows that, among Millennials and Gen Z adults, foundational knowledge about the Holocaust is lacking. A survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference, revealed that Arizonans ages 18-39 ranked 49th in the nation in awareness that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. In fact, 34 percent of this demographic believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
But despite deficiencies in Holocaust-related knowledge, 79 percent of those surveyed say teaching about it is important, in part so it doesn’t happen again.
The same Claims Conference survey also found that 64 percent of Arizona millennials and Gen Z adults have seen Nazi symbols in their communities and/or on their social media channels within the past five years. In addition, 46 percent have seen Holocaust denial or distortion on social media or elsewhere online. An audit of antisemitic incidents reported to the Anti-Defamation League, however, found that antisemitic violence dropped by 41 percent in Arizona in 2019 from the previous year.
Nationally, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirms that antisemitic hate crimes are on the rise, increasing by 19 percent in the United States in 2019.
Supporters of the bill include Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The group, the largest Jewish women’s organization in the United States with nearly 300,000 members across the country and more than 5,000 in Arizona, is a vocal advocate in combating antisemitism – and education, they say, is where to start. The group hopes that the passage of the bill will lead to further action by U.S. Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema in Washington to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism into law.
Joy Feldman is the advocacy chair for the Hadassah Desert-Mountain Region.