An ongoing controversy in Canada’s largest school district took a more bizarre turn this week.
Last spring, the student equity advisor of the Toronto District School Board compiled and released a compendious assemblage he called “resources to educators.” The materials, issued via email by Javier Davila, were a hodgepodge of anti-Israel propaganda, and included outright antisemitic content and the glorification of suicide bombings.
The “resources,” for example, claim that Palestinians “have been legitimately resisting racism, colonization, and genocide since the 1920s to the present day by any means necessary: general strikes, demonstrations, armed struggle, and martyrdom operations (called ‘suicide bombing’ by Zionists).” Davila’s materials also included a link to the website of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that is banned in Canada. Bibliographical recommendations include children’s books that characterize Israelis as thieves and murderers.
The materials Davila distributed are intended to guide teachers in educating students about the Arab-Israeli conflict. They were not vetted by senior officials in the school board and, when controversy ensued, Davila was put on leave but then reinstated. Despite the absence of even a slap on the wrist, he moderated a panel in June with the tagline “How can we educate about Palestine if we can’t even say it?”
Not only is Davila free to “say” Palestine, he is also, evidently, free to distribute whatever material he chooses to Toronto teachers. Which brings us to this week.
Alexandra Lulka is a Toronto school trustee who is Jewish and represents a heavily Jewish district of the city.
“I was outraged to discover that some of this material justifies suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism,” she wrote on social media during the conflict in the spring between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. “This is reprehensible. These materials were provided by an employee from the TDSB equity department, the very department that should be countering antisemitism and violence, not fanning the flames.”
The school board’s integrity commissioner investigated Davila’s materials and found they did indeed contain antisemitic content and promote terrorism – and then called for Lulka to be censured because, the commissioner’s investigation declares, it was the purview of the school board, not Lulka, to determine whether the content was unacceptable. The commissioner went further, condemning Lulka for not pointing out positive aspects of Davila’s “resources.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs criticized this part of the situation in particular.
“It is astonishingly unreasonable to compel a Jewish trustee calling out Jew-hatred to also highlight positive elements in the resources. The recommendation to censure her for not doing so is misguided and must be rejected,” said CIJA’s vice-president Noah Shack in a statement. “Punishing Trustee Lulka is contrary to the values of an educational institution purporting to engender learning and mutual respect.”
Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre also drew a contrast between what should have happened and what did happen.
“This outrageous process against TDSB Trustee Alexandra Lulka is just the latest manifestation of the institutional antisemitism afflicting the TDSB,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, the centre’s director of policy. “Not only is the investigation and its findings unjust, but it’s ridiculous that the person who calls out a transgression is being punished but the person responsible for the transgression was not.”
We are familiar, by now, with antisemitism being downgraded by the very people who are appointed (or self-appointed) to monitor and combat racism and bigotry. The Toronto case, which presumably will have been decided Wednesday (after the Independent goes to press), is a step beyond. It threatens to condemn the very people who stand up against antisemitism, even as a perpetrator of what the integrity commissioner acknowledges was anti-Jewish racism gets off scot-free.
This outcome is problematic, not only for the potential danger it presents to Jewish students in Canada’s largest school district. It encourages teachers to miseducate students on a sensitive and complex international issue with very real consequences for intercultural harmony here at home.
Editorial Note: After the Jewish Independent went to press, the TDSB voted to not censure Lulka. For the full story, see thecjn.ca/news/alexandra-lulka-tdsb.