by Michael Teper, October 29, 2021
Earlier this year, Javier Davila, a Student Equity Adviser who works for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), published two emails about the Israel/Palestine conflict while on the job. These emails produced an angry response from many of Canada’s Jewish and Israel advocacy groups, such as B’nai Brith Canada, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Michael Mostyn, the president of B’nai Brith Canada, even called for Davila to be fired.
In the initial aftermath of these emails and accusations, TDSB Director Karen Falconer ordered Davila to be placed on home assignment for approximately three weeks during an investigation. The story got picked up by David Moscrop, a Canadian political science academic at the University of Ottawa who writes an occasional column for the Washington Post. Moscrop’s Washington Post opinion column called out the TDSB for “falling into a moral panic, throwing Davila under the bus and sending a disconcerting message to its educators.”
Then came some blog postings from Debbie Kasman. Kasman is a former Principal with the Kawartha District School Board, and describes herself as an “education analyst & researcher, author & speaker.” On June 4, 2021, Kasman wrote that in placing Davila on home assignment, “Falconer likely caved from pressure from one or several Jewish trustees and perhaps because she self-identifies as Jewish.” Three weeks later Kasman wrote another post in which she claimed Davila was placed on home assignment “under a Jewish Acting Director of Education who may have a bias against Palestinians.”
Nowhere in her blog postings did Kasman say that Falconer had ever said or done anything to show bias against Palestinians, either personally, or through association with any group. Kasman's allegations of bias are based solely on the grounds that Falconer is a Jew. In other words, according to Kasman, every Jew is potentially biased against Palestinians, and therefore cannot be trusted as a decision maker in a situation that in some way involves Palestinians.
This antisemitic motive-guessing is as ludicrous as it is dangerous and ugly.
It’s ludicrous because the opinions of Jews on the Israel/Palestine conflict are anything but monolithic. A quick visit to the websites of Haaretz.com, jewishcurrents.org, or ijvcanada.org proves that easily enough. This obvious fact didn’t stop Kasman from stereotyping Falconer as prejudiced against Palestinians.
It’s dangerous because under Kasman’s theory of speculative bias, no Jewish judge or public official is safe. If they deal with someone who is Palestinian, they could be biased against them. If they make a decision involving another Jew, they could be showing favoritism. The same pseudo-legal argument could be made about any authority figure who is Black, Indigenous, LGBT, etc. Fortunately the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of judges who are speciously accused of bias, has little patience with this nonsense. In the 2015 case of Yukon Francophone District School Board v. Yukon Attorney General, the Court adopted a UK case which held that “We cannot, however, conceive of circumstances in which an objection could be soundly based on the religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, age, class, means or sexual orientation of the judge.”
It’s ugly because it’s based on the “powerful menace hallmark of hate” against Jews. In the 2006 ruling of Warman v. Kouba, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal identified several “hallmarks of hate” to identify hate speech. In the context of hate against Jews, the Tribunal characterized one of these hallmarks as one in which “Jewish people are said to control the media, the education system and our governments, thereby putting the non-Jewish population in grave danger. Jewish control over these institutions is alleged to be the reason that individual rights are being suppressed.” Messages relying on this trope “attempt to generate feelings of outrage at being robbed and duped by a sinister group of people. In this way, the messages bearing this hallmark create the conditions for hatred of members of these groups to flourish.”
Kasman’s reprehensible and discriminatory attacks on the integrity of a professional colleague cannot be allowed to stand unanswered. Kasman needs to be formally and emphatically reminded by the Ontario College of Teachers that there is no place for discrimination, bigotry, or spurious accusations in Ontario's teaching profession.