B’nai Brith Canada “relieved” when attempt to censure a Jewish trustee for speaking out against antisemitism failed after months of harassment.
By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News
B’nai Brith Canada has warned that an overly broad definition of Islamophobia is being used to silence opposition to antisemitism. The warning came in response to an attempt by a commissioner on the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to censure a Jewish trustee for speaking out against antisemitism.
The case centered around a complaint by TDSB trustee Alexandra Lulka regarding a number of materials on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that had been distributed to teachers by a student equity program adviser, Javier Davila.
According to the National Post, the materials included the statement 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).
In a statement posted to Twitter in May, Lulka, who is Jewish, said she had been “deeply disturbed” to find that “virulently anti-Israel and even antisemitic materials” were being distributed to teachers.
My statement regarding the reprehensible unsanctioned materials distributed to TDSB teachers. pic.twitter.com/xZ3qvQDre4
— Alexandra Lulka Rotman (@alexandralulka) May 23, 2021
“I was outraged to discover that some of this material justifies suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism,” she wrote. “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.”
She added that she planned to demand a full investigation, “to ensure that none of these hateful materials ever see the inside of a TDSB classroom,” adding “we must all do better to combat antisemitism.”
Censured for not taking Palestinian side in conflict
According to B’nai Brith Canada, the TDSB’s Human Rights Office subsequently found that the materials “could reasonably be considered to contain antisemitic material, references, or allusions” and that “materials contained in the links support the use of violence and terrorism against Israeli Jews.”
Yet despite this finding, TDSB’s Integrity Commissioner, Suzanne Craig, recommended that the board censure Lulka for her remarks. Craig conceded that the materials did contain antisemitic content, but argued that Lulka should have have taken pains to “call out the potentially harmful materials while appropriately characterizing other materials as important, positive pro-Palestinian discourse” when crafting her statement in May.
Consequently, Craig recommended that Lulka be censured for discriminating against Muslims and Palestinians.
“Bizarrely, the Commissioner reached this conclusion even though Lulka never referenced Muslims or Palestinians in her comments, and the person whose actions she was criticizing is neither Muslim nor Palestinian,” a spokesman for B’nai Brith Canada commented.
On Wednesday night, TDSB trustees voted 10-7 against a motion to censure Lulka for her comments. But although B’nai Brith Canada said they were “relieved” at the result, they warned that Islamophobia was being used as an excuse to whitewash antisemitism.
“The persecution of Lulka fulfilled a prescient warning that B’nai Brith made back in 2017, when it chided the TDSB for adopting an overly broad definition of Islamophobia that could muzzle criticism of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis,” the organization said in a statement.
“Though the TDSB formally withdrew that definition after B’nai Brith’s exposé, it appears that the Commissioner and/or investigators still misused the concept of Islamophobia as a cudgel to punish those who speak out against antisemitism.”
The organization has pointed out that the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism was formally adopted by the Province of Ontario last year and ought to have been rolled out across public institutions, including the school board
“In B’nai Brith’s view, the wasteful and unjust persecution of Lulka could have been avoided had the TDSB simply applied the IHRA definition as it was obligated to do,” the statement added.