A Canadian Circus

A decision late last week by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) brought a controversy to a happy end but left, all the same, a bitter aftertaste.

Last May, a trustee of the board, Alexandra Lulka, called her colleagues’ attention to teaching manuals that had been distributed by an advisor to the TDSB to interested local educators to help them discuss the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Ms. Lulka said on Twitter that some of the materials were “virulently anti-Israel and even antisemitic” and that they justified “suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism” against Jews.

She described things accurately, as the school board’s Human Rights Office eventually confirmed. Links included in one of the manuals, it found, “support the use of violence and terrorism against Israeli Jews; specifically, including a link to the website of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a group that is currently on Canada’s Listed Terrorist Entities), documentary and resources about Leila Khaled, who was involved in plane hijackings, and an interview with Ghassan Kanafani, who was involved in violent actions against civilians.”

The TDSB’s Human Rights Office concluded that the resources dismissed the historical connection Jewish people have to the land, lumps all Israelis together and says “martyrdom operations” are a legitimate means of resistance.

In a remarkable understatement, the office concluded that elements of the handout “could be reasonably considered to contain antisemitic materials and seen to be contributing to antisemitism.”

So far, at least regarding the dissemination of the material, so good.

Astonishingly, though, the TDSB’s Human Rights Office nevertheless recommended that the Board of Trustees censure Ms. Lulka. Even though she had not, in her tweet, named the person who had compiled and distributed the offensive material, he is one Javier Dávila, and is an outspoken activist on behalf of Palestinians. After the Human Rights Office reached its conclusion, he complained that he was getting “harassing and hateful messages” and claimed that a campaign was started to have his Ontario College of Teachers licence revoked.

Those claims prompted the Human Rights Office to investigate Ms. Lulka for harassment, improper influencing of an investigation and defamation of a TDSB employee.

The investigation cleared the whistleblower of all those charges, but nevertheless accused her of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bigotry for her tweet — which it claimed perpetuated negative stereotypes about Palestinians and Muslims “when it stated that the materials which included Palestinian voices and perspectives ‘justify suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism,’.”

And it recommended that Ms. Lulka be censured by the Board of Trustees — the harshest penalty-arrow in the board’s quiver.

In response, Noah Shack, Vice President at the Jewish Federations of Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, reasonably noted that “When resources that include Jew-hatred and promoting terrorist groups banned under Canadian law are distributed to educators to use in the classroom, there must be accountability. When antisemitism is promoted or supported by Board staff, unequivocal condemnation is required.”

Indeed.

The happy news last week was that the Toronto District School Board Trustees voted to reject the recommendation to censure Ms. Lulka.

It was, though, a 10-7 vote. Which means that seven of the distinguished Canadian citizens entrusted with overseeing Toronto’s educational system found Ms. Lulka’s pointing out materials supportive of killing Jews to have been an unacceptable act. Worthy, in fact, of censure.

This circus hasn’t been taking place in a vacuum, either.

The B’nai Brith Canada 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents reported a record 2,610 cases of antisemitism last year, up 18.3 per cent from 2019. This translates to roughly 217 incidents per month, 50 incidents per week, and seven antisemitic incidents per day — 44 per cent of which were violent.

And in a statement released on May 16, B’nai Brith Canada said the number of antisemitic assaults recorded so far in May of 2021 “easily surpasses” the total for all of 2020.

And this past summer, at least three spots in the greater Toronto area — including a school, a shul and a bus shelter — were defaced with antisemitic messages, in one week alone.

Attempts to indoctrinate students with approval of anti-Israel terrorism is not only revolting, it is irresponsible, as it contributes to the atmosphere that yields violence against Jews.

That a “human rights office” and seven of the Toronto District School Board’s Trustees could fail to appreciate that fact is both depressing and alarming.

Canadian Jewish groups celebrated the decision to not censure Ms. Lulka as a “vindication” of the trustee.

We suppose it is, but what remains unpleasantly on our tongue is the taste of Israel-hatred, so easily and routinely morphed into Jew-hatred, that exists in seemingly respected institutions like the Toronto District School Board’s Human Rights Office and among the board’s trustees.