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Avi Benlolo: If schools are serious about inclusivity, they must take a firm stand against anti-Semitism


School boards must recognize their culpability in enabling such hatred

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Last week’s debacle at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto’s Flemingdon Park, where students led a walkout in which chants and signs of “Free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” figured prominently, sent a shock wave through the Jewish community. To add insult to injury, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) responded to the protest with a letter to parents saying there were “multiple meanings” for what critics deemed obvious calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people from the land of Israel.

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“Multiple meanings?” When they were talking about “from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the removal of the Jewish people from their homeland. The “river” referred to is the Jordan River, and the “sea” is the Mediterranean. Israel lies between these two bodies of water. Since 80 per cent of the population between the “river and the sea” are Israeli Jews, it is quite clear /there is only one meaning to the chants and signage promoted by the students at Marc Garneau: the destruction of the State of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.

Here is the blatant truth: the Palestinians should be freed from their subjugation and oppression by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They are the ones holding Palestinians captive, not Israel. They are the ones running terror-sponsoring organizations, not Israel. They are the ones allegedly using money from foreign donors to build terror tunnels and purchase rockets to launch against Israel, instead of spending it on hospitals, roads and schools. The Palestinian Authority recently cancelled its supposed fourth “democratic” election in nearly two decades of dictatorship. So, the slogan is missing a few more words: “Free Palestine from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.”

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Free Palestine from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas

While students should be free to exercise their democratic freedom to protest, calls for the destruction of another group or nation must be widely condemned and our hate-speech laws invoked. Since Hamas launched an aggressive war against Israel last May, Jewish teachers and students have felt victimized by the increased level of anti-Semitism in Toronto’s school system and beyond. In a letter to the TDSB this week, a group called Educators Against Antisemitism appealed to the director of education, saying that “Jewish staff consistently feel unsafe in their workplace solely for the reason they are Jewish.” The group says “there appears to be a recent pattern to ignore anti-Semitism within the school board, or at the very least, to stand idly by thus allowing its existence with minimal-to-no intervention.”

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Over the past number of months, what has become apparent is that when it comes to advancing equity and diversity in the school system — or just respect for each other — these values don’t seem to apply to Jewish staff and students. They are left feeling marginalized as guest lecturers rail against the Jewish state, and narratives are promoted without context or an opposing point of view that sets aside misconceptions. In my experience, most anti-Israel “social-justice warriors” are shocked when they learn they are advocating for a radical Islamic group in Gaza (Hamas) and the continued suppression of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights — not to mention a lack of democratic freedoms in Gaza and the West Bank.

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Many university campuses have already been lost to anti-Semitism and poor contextual understanding of the situation in the Middle East. Sadly, many educators have sided with dangerous and oppressive regimes instead of Israel, the only democracy in the region. Now our public school system has become politicized and finds itself under attack by ideology inconsistent with Canadian values that promote freedom and democracy. This counter-narrative is an attack on us all, not just the Jewish community, and the teachers and students. For our part in countering this dangerous path, The Abraham Global Peace Initiative reached out to the Toronto school board with an eight-point recommendation tool that educators may use in re-positioning their work in anti-racism education and culturally responsive pedagogies.

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Leaders in education must take action against the continued growth and normalization of anti-Semitism in the school system. If schools are the engines of promoting inclusivity and good citizenship, language that promotes hate and exclusion must be vigorously condemned and disallowed. School boards must also recognize their accountability and culpability for generating and even enabling anti-Semitism, and immediately take measures to combat this and all forms of racism. Our future as a nation is at stake.

National Post

Avi Abraham Benlolo is the Founder and Chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative.

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