Students give ‘Heil Hitler’ salutes at near Toronto Jewish school

The school, located near the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, hopes to use the incident as an educational opportunity.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Toronto elementary and middle school has launched an investigation after two students were seen giving the Nazi salute and portraying a swastika before class Tuesday.

The incident has upset the school’s administration, provincial officials and Jewish groups alike.

Charles H. Best Middle School principal Elever Baker immediately wrote the parent body that what the 13- and 14-year-old students had done was “upsetting and unacceptable” and went against the school’s ethos to be “a welcoming, safe, and inclusive place,” which “has always been our message to students.”

The school, located in a neighborhood with a significant Jewish population and close to the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto high school, is “committed to the work of intentionally identifying, interrupting, and addressing racism and discrimination in our school, with a focus on antisemitism,” he added.

Baker and the school board are hoping to turn the incident into an “educational moment,” CP24 News reported.

According to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federation, these kinds of incidents have occurred with alarming frequency over the past six months.

“The incidents reported at Charles H. Best Junior Middle School are absolutely unacceptable and represent just the latest examples of antisemitism manifesting in schools…throughout the province,” said CIJA Vice President Noah Shack in a statement. “Antisemitic incidents like these have occurred on a weekly basis since the beginning of this school year.”

Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants co-president Pinchas Gutter went further.

“The scourge of Jew-hatred is not confined to a single classroom, a single school, or a single board,” he said. “What is happening in our schools is an indicator of what is happening in our communities. Antisemitism is plaguing our entire society, and we need concerted action to combat it in all its forms.”

The Toronto District School Board spokesperson and head of the board’s Jewish Heritage Committee denied that the teens had any evil intent when they used the “Heil Hitler” stiff-armed salutation.

“This is a symbol they see on TV, they’ve seen unfurled on flags at demonstrations, they see it online,” said Shari Schwartz-Maltz in a press release Tuesday. “It becomes normalized and they don’t know what it really means…a symbol of hate.”

CIJA reported last April that even though the Jewish community is only 6.7% of the city’s three million residents, it is the most frequently targeted group, with over a third of all hate crimes in Toronto being antisemitic in nature. Then in May, during Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls against the Hamas terror group, the monthly average of 10-12 incidents jumped five-fold.

In January, CIJA organized a province-wide summit on the growing problem. Panelists shared best practices in the fight against hate, discrimination, and antisemitism with more than 100 mayors, police officials and councilors.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day a week later, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced that the province will be investing almost $300,000 to develop “classroom resources and programming” to teach students the dangers of, and how to recognize and react to antisemitism. Half the money was earmarked for the CIJA to specifically educate fifth to eighth graders, which includes middle schoolers.

“Over the past months, we have observed a disturbing increase of hate crimes targeting Jewish students, families, and synagogues,” said Lecce. “To ensure that students learn from history so not to repeat it, we are delivering new resources, training, and tools to eliminate this hateful reality from the classroom and hearts of students, staff, and communities.”