Tom Horne says ‘antisemitic’ UNICEF and Amnesty International shouldn’t be in AZ schools

A presentation by student groups criticized Israel for apartheid and human rights violations

By: - November 9, 2023 10:05 am

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne speaking with attendees at the 2023 Update from Capitol Hill hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry in April 2023. Photo by Gage Skidmore (modified) | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Arizona’s schools chief is urging public schools to disband student clubs sponsored by UNICEF and Amnesty International after a pro-Palestine meeting at a Scottsdale high school presented content that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne called antisemitic and despicable. 

“I have no authority to tell the schools what to do on this, but I advise them to keep Amnesty International and UNICEF out of their literature, their clubs out of their schools (and)  off of their campuses,” Horne said at a Nov. 8 press conference. “They generate antisemitism among impressionable young people.” 


Last week, the student-led chapters of UNICEF and Amnesty International at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale held a joint meeting during lunch to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict. A slideshow presentation compiled by Desert Mountain students in both clubs accused Israel of numerous human rights violations, including illegal occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. It was quickly disseminated on social media by right wing activists. 

UNICEF, or the United Nations International Children’s Fund, is an agency of the United Nations that focuses on providing humanitarian aid to children around the world and has a presence in as many as 190 countries. Amnesty International is an international nongovernmental organization that advocates for human rights. 

Horne, who is Jewish and said he lost many family members in the Holocaust, responded by emailing school superintendents across the state, warning them to avoid the organizations and calling the slideshow “one-sided propaganda in favor of Hamas terrorists.” 

In arguing against the merits of the organizations, the Republican schools chief criticized UNICEF as being “under the thumb” of the United Nations, which he claimed is dominated by authoritarian regimes, and accused Amnesty International of being too leftist. Failing to sanction UNICEF and Amnesty International, Horne wrote, would invariably lead to further discrimination, while supporting them amounted to giving aid to terrorists. 

“Giving aid and comfort to terrorists is contrary to U.S. law. I urge you to consider keeping Amnesty International and UNICEF, and their literature, off of your campuses,” he wrote. 

Adam Brooks, a parent of a Desert Mountain High student, dismissed concerns that censuring the groups could violate freedom of speech protections. 

“We cannot confound the expression of safe spaces with enabling a space that fosters misinformation, hatred and political agendas,” he said.  

In an email sent shortly after the uproar, Desert Mountain High School Principal Lisa Hirsch assured parents that the students had not intended to promote antisemitism and promised to more thoroughly review future presentations. 

“It is absolutely clear that these students had no intention of promoting any form of Antisemitism,” Hirsch wrote. “Their primary focus was to shed light on the humanitarian crisis and discuss possible ways to address it. In the future, we will have a stronger review process.” 

In an emailed statement, Kristine Harrington, a spokesperson for Scottsdale Unified School District, told the Arizona Mirror that clubs are student-driven and federal law forbids schools that receive government assistance from restricting the speech of students due to its religious, political or philosophical content. While the district recognizes the concerns raised by the meeting’s presentation, Harrington said the clubs would not be eliminated, as doing so would break federal law. 

“The district would be violating its limited open forum rules if it were to disband the UNICEF and Amnesty International clubs or preclude students from meeting,” she said. “The district oversees the activity to prevent disruption to the educational environment but does not regulate the viewpoints of the student club members.”  

The district is currently working on an “after-action review” to identify what could have been handled differently and which safeguards to put in place to prevent future learning disruptions, Harrington added.


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Gloria Rebecca Gomez
Gloria Rebecca Gomez

Gloria Gomez joined the Arizona Mirror in August 2022. She graduated in 2022 with bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor.