By Yves Engler
While Jewish settlers launch pogroms and Israeli ministers call to “wipe out” Palestinian towns, Canadian schools suppress Palestinian symbols and celebrate colonial violence.
Last week Park West School in Halifax forced a half dozen Palestinian-Canadian students to remove Kufiyahs they were wearing during a cross-cultural day. In a flagrant display of anti-Palestinian racism, the principal said the Palestinian scarf “represents the colors of war.”
In a similar case of cultural/political suppression, Palestinian students in Ottawa were blocked from flying the Palestinian flag alongside those from dozens of other countries. The Palestinian Youth Movement has been engaged in a year-long battle with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board over anti-Palestinian discrimination.
Recently a guest speaker, part of the English Montréal School Board Holocaust Education Program, told Westmount high school students that people say “Israel is a terrible country, [that] they’re abusing the Palestinians – which is a bunch of crap. I lived in Israel.
Trust me they’re doing everything but abusing the Palestinians.” Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other establishment human rights groups have concluded Israel is committing the crime of apartheid.
Last month the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation complained to the Toronto Sun about a workshop offered by an Ontario Secondary School Teachers Foundation (OSSTF) local titled “Anti-Palestinian racism: Nakba denial.” In recent years pro-Israel groups have lobbied Canadian school boards to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.
While Palestinian solidarity and symbols are targeted, schools expose children to aggressive pro-Israel messages. On January 24 the Jewish National Fund of Canada reported, “270 students from various Jewish day schools in Montreal participated in JNF Day at Beth Zion Synagogue.” A large map showing the grade schoolers included the illegally occupied West Bank as Israel.
The kids were probably subjected to other anti-Palestinian positions. The session was led by JNF Educational Emissary, Yifat Bear Miller, who spent more than a decade as an education officer for the Israeli military. A registered Canadian charity, the JNF is an explicitly racist institution that’s played an important role in the colonization of Palestine.
The JNF educates Canadian educators in its racist worldview. On the “JNF Educators mission to Israel” participants “Learn about Eco–Zionism and the connection between Judaism, Israel, and the environment”.
In a recent JNF Canada Facebook post a young student is wearing an Israel Defense Forces shirt. Has any Canadian school banned shirts promoting this violent organization?
At Canada’s largest private high school kids are pressured to wear IDF shirts. During “IDF Days” at Toronto TanenbaumCHAT they fundraise for Israeli military initiatives. A summary of a 2020 IDF day noted, “Shavuah Yisrael continued today with IDF day. The TanenbaumCHAT community — under the leadership of our Schlichim [Israeli emissaries] Lee and Ariel — showed their support for the Israel Defence Forces by wearing green, eating green, and donating green! Proceeds from the delicious green-sprinkled donuts that were sold during the 10-minute break are being donated to help the well-being of Israeli soldiers on active duty on behalf of TanenbaumCHAT thru the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada.”
Recent posts on the school’s Facebook page mention a presentation by a former member of an elite IDF unit and students taught “Krav Maga is a martial art developed by the IDF”. According to TanenbaumCHAT’s statement of purpose, “Israel engagement pervades our curricular and extracurricular programming and it is a shared vision–part of the consciousness of all our teachers and educators. Through connecting with our staff, guests and visiting speakers, our students develop relationships with Israeli peers and other Israeli role models. Students enjoy special Israel weeks and IDF days.”
As part of TanenbaumCHAT’s Israel engagement, some students attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C. In 2019 there was controversy over one of the school’s teachers, Aviva Polonsky, who posted a group picture on social media of her students meeting Sebastian Gorka, a far-right figure in the Donald Trump administration. Polonsky has stated publicly that she doesn’t accept students expressing non-Zionist views in her classes.
Netivot HaTorah, Bialik Hebrew Day School, Bnei Akiva, Toronto Heschel School are other schools breeding anti-Palestinianism. A December post from Leo Baeck Day School notes, “we are a Zionist institution with a core responsibility to preserve Israel.” An Israeli emissary spends a year at the Toronto elementary school and when they return, noted the Canadian Jewish News, “engages with students by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.” Leo Baeck students also pay “tribute” to Israel’s fallen heroes” and fundraise for Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel, which supports injured IDF soldiers.
In a damning comment on Canadian political culture, some schools celebrate the colonizers’ military while others repress symbols of the colonized. Fortunately, there’s been some resistance. Thousands emailed and dozens rallied in opposition to the recent banning of Kufiyahs in Halifax, which prompted officials to label the incident a misunderstanding.
The Palestinian Youth Movement has organized protests against discrimination in Ottawa schools and a parent complained about the anti-Palestinian comment made at Westmount High school (these incidents have only come to light because of the protests)
While essential, defensive protests are insufficient. There should be public letters and rallies challenging “IDF Days” and the colonial indoctrination at Canada’s largest private school. We need to directly challenge schools breeding anti-Palestinian racism.