(December 6, 2021 / JNS) A Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee who raised concerns on Twitter last spring about a “manual” sent to teachers that included anti-Semitic messages was recommended for “censure.”
The recommendation was issued on Thursday against trustee Alexandra Lulka by Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig, who in her report also found that the materials Lulka complained about did, in fact, contain some anti-Semitic writings and promoted terrorism.
“Censure,” according to trustees, “is the harshest penalty that can be meted out to a trustee.”
According to Craig, Lulka’s online posts “fell within the TDSB definition of being discriminatory and did breach” the district’s code of conduct.
She added she could not rule on other accusations against Lulka because her social-media posts were “intended to curtail the furtherance of distribution of materials that the Respondent believed were harmful to the wellbeing of students at the TDSB, in particular Jewish students. That being said, it was the responsibility of the TDSB and not the Respondent to make a determination of whether the materials were inappropriate and discriminatory.”
The complaint against Lulka to the district stems from an incident that took place in May during Israel’s 11-day conflict with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Javier DaVila, a member of the board’s “gender-based violence unit,” distributed a 51-page anti-Israel manual to teachers who requested it. The booklet discusses “Palestine” and “colonization” by Israel, includes suggested reading materials and promotes BDS. DaVila was initially put on leave but has since returned to his post.
With regard to the materials DaVila circulated, Craig said: “For the purpose of this analysis, while this office recognizes that the staff person’s stated intent was to curate a collective of materials to center pro-Palestinian voices, the HRO [school district’s Human Rights Office] has identified that some anti-Semitic materials contained within the links in the mailouts were present.”
She also said that “the majority of resources provided by the staff person were educational and helped to center often marginalized voices; however, I am concerned that the HRO has a very limited view of the definition of anti-Semitism, an incorrect definition of certain terms in the Jewish narrative, including ‘Zionist,’ which is painted incorrectly and pejoratively.”
‘A chilling effect on Jewish students’
Craig’s 50-page report was met with incredulity by the local Jewish community.
“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 Noah Shack, vice president at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Punishing trustee Lulka is contrary to the values of an educational institution purporting to engender learning and mutual respect.”
He said that “a censure will have a chilling effect on Jewish students, staff and educators who are already feeling intimidated to share their lived experience of anti-Semitism within the TDSB and speak out against Jew-hatred when they see it.”
Stack urged the Toronto District School Board to take “immediate, meaningful and reparative action to fix the rot of anti-Semitism, particularly with its Human Rights Office.”
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) said it was shocked by the bizarre and contradictory measures against Lulka.
“This outrageous process is just the latest manifestation of the institutional anti-Semitism afflicting the TDSB,” says Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, FSWC’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.”
“It is critical for TDSB to continue to address discrimination in all its forms, but that must include anti-Semitism, which sadly has not received the same attention as other forms of hate,” continued Kirzner-Roberts. “We call for the development of a comprehensive action plan on anti-Semitism that will value the voices of Jewish staff, students and families in the TDSB community—action that is long overdue. Our organization and many others in the Jewish community will be there to support this important work.”
FSWC, she said, is calling on the school board to re-evaluate its double-standard approach to dealing with anti-Semitism.
It should apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism and address its Human Rights Office’s “limited view of the definition of anti-Semitism” and “incorrect definition of certain terms in the Jewish narrative, including ‘Zionist,’ which is painted incorrectly and pejoratively,” she said, as stated in the Integrity Commissioner’s report.
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