Letter to TDSB Director and Trustees: Antisemitism Emergency

Educators Against Antisemitism, Parents Against Antisemitism and CAEF send letter to TDSB Director and Trustees: Antisemitism Emergency

Tuesday, March 1, 2022


Dear Director Russell-Rawlins,


As you know, the recent wave of Antisemitic hate at TDSB has brought extreme upset and reaffirmed a prevailing and growing concern – there is a clear lack of education on antisemitism and the Holocaust, both for TDSB students and staff


While we applaud the TDSB’s advancement in the pursuit of anti-racist education for other minority groups, we are extremely concerned that Jewish people have not received the same attention. One cannot claim to be equitable by solely focusing on a few marginalized groups. Knowing that Jewish people are the most targeted for hate crimes, we are insisting that the TDSB follow suit in ensuring all staff, students, and families feel seen and heard. The TDSB has an obligation to keep its employees and students safe. We have heard that many Jewish employees and students currently feel unsafe at the TDSB. The unprofessional, inappropriate, and racist conduct of various TDSB employees over the last year have now translated to antisemitic behaviour by TDSB students. The lack of action from TDSB to insist on zero tolerance for hate is now bleeding into our classrooms and onto our streets.


We, a group of thousands of parents and educators across the board are once again, voicing our extreme concerns. There must be zero tolerance for hate towards any marginalized group, and this MUST include Jewish people. As educators and citizens of a global society, it is our duty to examine our institutions and the underlying biases which allow hate to grow. And we insist that the TDSB, a leader in public education within the world, take a good look at what is happening within it.


As Canada’s largest school Board, TDSB should lead by example, ensuring the principles and values of our society are upheld and reflected in our schools. When educators and students are permitted to call for the destruction of another nation, promote BDS, and support terrorist ideologies, it is our obligation to investigate and question the framework in which we allow this to take place.


The students at Marc Garneau Collegiate who openly chanted anti-Israel rhetoric and carried signs with the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” were not met with opposition nor were they reprimanded. This lack of consequence sent a strong and powerful message, not only to those involved in the demonstration, but the victims of their wrath and bystanders as well. The Board’s silence left Jewish students, teachers and families fearful and isolated, forced to fight the ancient, mutated, hatred of antisemitism, on their own. Allowing students to chant for the destruction of the only Jewish state is not only antisemitic (its latest variant), but sets a dangerous precedent. What other nations can we wish death upon? Canada? Ukraine? Who else is not worthy of safety in their school and community? Where is the line drawn?


Then it happened again. And again. And last week, for a third time, people in the TDSB community felt unsafe — and no punishment was meted out.


What you tolerate, you permit, and this becomes your standard.


On February 24, an occasional teacher at Pleasant P.S. faced students who held a Hitler salute, to her face. On February 17, another teacher, this time at Valley Park Middle School, was encircled by a group of students performing the same salute. Plus there was antisemitic graffiti found on school property. And on February 1, a teacher at Ledbury P.S. compared the vaccine mandate to a mandate set by Hitler’s government wherein Jews were forced to wear yellow stars to mark themselves as Jews.


When does it end?


In September of 2021, guest speaker Desmond Cole was invited to talk to Senior Staff about Anti-Black racism, wherein he spread misinformation that was designed to fuel hatred toward Israel and its people. And in May of 2021 a TDSB staff member, in a trusted equity role, shared slanderous and virulent anti-Israel teaching resources with educators, through a TSDB list-serve.


The consequences for both these adults? None.

Why?


Allowing toxicity to brew within the TDSB is shameful. Where else would this be tolerated? Who else is not worthy of dignity and protection?


If protection is supposed to happen within the TDSB, then why, in December 2021, did Alexandra Lulka, a Jewish trustee who spoke up against antisemitism, face censorship under the recommendation of TDSB’s Integrity Commissioner? Would a Black trustee have faced censorship for standing up against Black racism? How about an Indigenous trustee? Or someone from the 2SLGBTQ+ community? Why the double standard?


There cannot be favouritism in discrimination. That in itself is discriminatory.


Our groups have voiced our fears and concerns in letters of May and September 2021, and in calls and emails to assorted trustees and staff members again and again. The letters promising change talk about antisemitism as just one more kind of hate the board is fighting — but there has been a clear and serious escalation of antisemitism seen across the board as noted in TDSB’s Human Rights Report of March 2021, and as commented upon by almost every TDSB publication since March 2021, that mentions antisemitism.The TDSB’s anti-hate initiatives are not addressing antisemitism and It must do so. The TDSB must commit to ensuring the safety of its Jewish population, just as it does all others. And it needs to happen NOW.

Staff or students who hold Hitler-esque saluts or deface property with Nazi symbols or cry out against Israel (the only place in the world where Jews live as a majority) are seen as antisemitic attacks, MORE THAN JUST ATTACKS OF HATRED as defined by the IHRA definition of antisemitism — which has been adopted by both our federal (2019) and provincial (2020) governments. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition definitively and explicitly recognizes that anti-Zionism (the delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish state) is a clear and unequivocal expression of antisemitism. The definition states clearly that Jew hatred includes applying antisemitic slurs to Israel, denying the Jewish people’s legitimate right to self-determination, accusing Israelis of blood libels, and holding Israel to double standards. It is NOT okay for these activities to be happening anywhere, especially in our educational institutions. CAEF recently highlighted the dire need to implement policy changes within TDSB in order to combat this alarming hate. We insist on this today.


It is absolutely unacceptable for TDSB to allow its employees to share antisemitic ideologies. It is absolutely unacceptable for TDSB to allow its students to display antisemitic beahviour. What you tolerate, you permit, and this becomes your standard.


As parents and educators fighting against antisemitism, we call on you, Director Russell-Rawlins, and Board Trustees to work alongside the Ontario College of Teachers, the Ministry of Education, and the teacher unions, and make antisemitism a top priority. We call on the TDSB to address the growing and terrifying Antisemetic concerns and adopt the IHRA definition in your future endeavors. We insist on mandatory staff training and a focus on Antisemitism and Holocaust education throughout TDSB.

Parents Against Antisemitism Educators Against Antisemitism Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation

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