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Toronto school trustee faces potential censure after calling out antisemitic material in teaching manuals


The TDSB’s human rights office confirmed that links in the material ‘support the use of violence and terrorism against Israeli Jews but Lulka still found herself under board probe

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A Toronto school trustee who claimed two teaching manuals on the Middle East were antisemitic and justified violence against Israelis has found herself facing school board censure for allegedly discriminating against Palestinians and Muslims, even though an internal investigation backed her claims.

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The manuals were meant to help teachers discuss the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in a classroom, and were circulated through an opt-in mailout.

Trustee Alexandra Lulka said on Twitter that the materials were “virulently anti-Israel and even antisemitic” and justified “suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism” against Jews.

The board’s human rights office confirmed that links included in the material “support the use of violence and terrorism against Israeli Jews; specifically, including a link to the website of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a group that is currently on Canada’s Listed Terrorist Entities), documentary and resources about Leila Khaled who was involved in plane hijackings, and an interview with Ghassan Kanafani, who was involved in violent actions against civilians.”

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But Lulka found herself under board probe for her complaints, and the Toronto District School Board was to vote Wednesday night on whether to censure her.

The manuals had been prepared by Javier Dávila, an equity advisor; although she did not name him, she retweeted a Toronto Sun article about the mailouts that does.

In the first manual, sent out on May 16, Dávila included links to information about antisemitism and having critical conversations about Israel and Zionism, Canada’s role in the conflict, and other resources which largely centered Palestinian writers and academics. The second manual, distributed on May 19, linked to more resources that could help educators speak to children about the conflict.

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The board investigation, run by Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig, states that a TDSB spokesperson said, to their knowledge, the manuals were not approved by anyone at the school board.

In an interview with an independent investigator, Dávila said he began getting “harassing and hateful messages” after the statement was published. He also told the investigator that a campaign was started to have his Ontario College of Teachers licence revoked.

Dávila was suspended from his position at the TDSB after the mailouts were distributed, but was recently reinstated without discipline.

On May 21, Dávila reached out to the school board’s Human Rights Office (HRO) to determine whether the manuals met the definition of antisemitism. He was told at the time that no antisemitic content was found, but in a following interaction with the HRO, he was told the office was now taking a different position.

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After completing a review of the manuals, the HRO found that the main articles Dávila shared did not contain antisemitism, but they did find than some links that “could be reasonably considered to contain antisemitic materials and seen to be contributing to antisemitism.”

The office said these resources dismissed the historical connection Jewish people have to the land, lumps all Israelis together, and says “martyrdom operations” are a legitimate means of resistance.

Still, the investigation found that Lulka’s Twitter statement was in violation of the TDSB’s Board Member Code of Conduct and fell into the definition of discrimination. It found that the statement perpetuated negative stereotypes about Palestinians and Muslims “when it stated that the materials which included Palestinian voices and perspectives ‘justify suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism,’ equating a Palestinian perspective as one that would ‘justify suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism.’”

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“I made the statement after hearing concerns from constituents who felt traumatized by the incident,” said Lulka in a written statement. “Given the concern over this incident, it is reasonable that a public statement be issued by an elected representative. I believe that to be within the scope of my responsibilities as a Trustee.”

The investigation concluded with a recommendation that Lulka be censured, which is “a strong condemnation of an action or statement of a Trustee who has been found to have breached the Code.” It is noted that in the view of trustees, a censure is the harshest penalty that can be given.

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