ALBANY — A controversial bill that would survey how well public schools are teaching about the horrors of the Holocaust cleared a key Assembly committee Tuesday, after sparking debate among Democrats and Republicans last week amid a rise in anti-Semitism across the nation.
The measure easily passed the Ways and Means Committee but was met with a singular “no” vote from Assemblyman Michael Benedetto (D-The Bronx) who tried to “hold” — or stall — the bill during a heated Assembly Education Committee meeting held last Monday.
Benedetto — who chairs the panel — argued the legislation would place an “unfunded mandate” on an already overburdened state Education Department and “take a lot of time” to administer the audit.
But he was overruled by an alliance of Democrats and Republicans to move the bill out of committee — a rare defiance of leadership by rank and file members in Albany.
“I was a ‘no’ vote today for the same reason that I was a ‘no’ vote and wanted to hold that bill last week. The teachers of New York State are doing their job and we don’t need to burden the commissioner of the Education Department and drain money or manpower away,” he told The Post.
“I talked to the education commissioner and yes she more or less informed me that this would be a bill that would be kind of redundant.”
“To request to conduct a study of something that is already being done, that is overseen by various superintendents and various principals is something that she did not want to do,” he added of his conversation with SED Commissioner Betty Rosa.
The SED said while they do not comment on pending legislation, education for K through 12 students includes instruction on the “human atrocities and mass murder during the Holocaust,” marginalizaton of Jews in European society during the reformation period and the Nuremberg Trials.
But bill sponsor Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Queens) said although state-run schools are already mandated to teach Holocaust studies, the need to assess curriculum is crucial amid a rise of anti-Semitic vandalism and threats of violence against Jewish New Yorkers.
The legislation would require the state Education Commissioner to conduct a study of New York’s over 700 school districts and submit a report assessing the effectiveness of Holocaust teachings.
“Reviewing whether or not schools actually teach about the Holocuast shouldn’t be controversial. A majority of New Yorkers ages 18 to 39 do not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust — we’re clearly not making the grade when it comes to Holocaust education,” she said.
“We think the bill should pass and we are baffled by the roadblocks,” said Alexander Rosemberg, deputy regional director of Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey.
“The generations that actually lived through the Holocaust are dying off and we think it is very important, as common standard practice, to know how effective teaching methods are.”
The ADL conducted a 2019 audit of anti-Semitic acts in schools grads K through 12 — the last full school year before the pandemic — which found 37 out of 43 incidents contained swastikas.
“The Holocaust needs to be taught and understand in our history. It deserves the attention that it needs, it’s already part of the curriculum but we want to make sure our tax dollars are being spent in an effective way.”
Last week’s Assembly Education Committee meeting drew ire from Republican committee ranker Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Brookhaven/Islip) who told the Post he believes opposition also stems from fear that the bill would spark debate on the chamber floor between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine lawmakers.
“I am deeply concerned that Democratic leadership actually directed this bill to be killed in the fear that should this bill come to a vote, a small group of self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist members would espouse anti-Israel and anti-Semitic commentary on the floor of the New York State Assembly as they have done frequently within their districts,” he said.
The bill still has to pass the Assembly Rules Committee before moving to the floor for a final vote.
A representative from state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Nassau)’s office — who carries the bill in the upper chamber — said they are also working to pass the bill on the floor before session’s end.
The legislative session ends on June 10.