Contentious Video Resurfaces in Ottawa Schools

Nov. 5, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A video labelled antisemitic and anti-Israel has resurfaced in an Ontario school three months after the education minister ordered it removed.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Now, Stephen Lecce is demanding the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board explain why his orders were not followed. At the same time, pro-Israel groups want to know how the offensive film got into classrooms in the first place.

“This is totally unacceptable. This anti-Israel and antisemitic video should never have been shown to Ontario’s students,” Lecce said in a statement to the CJR. “The revised version was provided to school boards with clear instructions on how to immediately implement the changes in course. A memo was also sent to all school boards, asking them to confirm they had implemented the changes.

“The board will need to answer for why this video is still being used, given the explicit direction to delete it,” he added.

Lecce ordered the video removed from the curriculum last July.

“I am again calling on all school boards to ensure the new version of the course be used and to respect the very legitimate concerns by so many parents, who are deeply concerned with the content of this biased video,” Lecce’s statement said.

The untitled video was created and distributed by e-Learning Ontario for an online Grade 10 civics course. It was one of four for the course available to all school boards in Ontario.

In it, a youth calling himself Naj declares: “The issue here is that the current occupation of the Palestinian land by the Zionists have (sic) violated the human rights of the Palestinians.

“The Gaza militants have retaliated by firing rockets at Israel. This conflict continues to rage on because the Israelis live as occupiers while the Palestinians live under occupation.

“This needs to change. The government of Israel needs to be pressured into ending this occupation by people around the world whether they’re civilians or politicians.”

In his statement, Lecce said: “We must fight antisemitism in all of its forms. I stand with Ontario’s Jewish community, who simply want to have their kids go through our public education system free of discrimination, bullying, and intimidation.”

The video first surfaced in July in the York Region school system. Thornhill MPP Gila Martow raised the issue with Lecce and he moved the same day to have the item removed.

It reappeared this month in Ottawa, where a parent whose child had been assigned to watch and comment on the video contacted Friends of the Simon Weisenthal Centre and the on-campus group Hasbara Fellowships Canada.

“It is imperative that the province ensure that each and every student exposed to this grossly one-sided video be presented with a balanced and informed perspective,” said Daniel Koren, executive director of Hasbara Canada. “We have dozens of Hasbara high school interns who would be happy to explain why this video is flawed, historically inaccurate, and most importantly, dangerous.”

FSWC also issued a news release “expressing its concern and frustration that the offensive, deeply misinformed video was still being used in the classroom.”

FSWC also commended the principal and the Ottawa school board for their quick action to remove the video.

Concern over the video prompted the New York-based Lawfare Project, in partnership with the Toronto law firm RE-LAW LLP to file an access to information request with the provincial government for all records related to the video.

“We’re doing this to get answers to how this got on the platform in the first place,” lawyer David Elmaleh said in an interview. “This video has a heavily biased perspective that is anti-Jewish being taught to our students.

“Our students should not be taught this kind of antisemitic and racist content,” he added.

Among the questions the Jewish and pro-Israel civil rights litigation fund wants answered are how the video got on the learning platform in the first place; who sourced it; how is the selection of such material overseen, and how it re-emerged after Lecce ordered it removed.

UPDATE: In a statement to the CJR, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said: “Last week, a video log (vlog) was presented in a grade 10 Civics class about Israel and the Palestinian Authority and was intended to show a student response to this situation. Unfortunately, this video was antisemitic and we apologize that it was presented. The vlog was originally included as part of a package of course materials provided by the Ministry of Education for use within the eLearning course. During the summer, we became aware of this vlog and the concerns about this content. The content was removed and we are now trying to determine how that content resurfaced. We have also sent a notification to all principals on this matter to ensure this situation does not happen again.

“This incident is another important reminder about our collective responsibility to create a learning and working environment that is built on the respect for the human rights and dignity of all people, is free from discrimination and harassment, and that values diversity and inclusion,” the OCDSB went on. “In response to this incident, we invited the Superintendent of Instruction to join the class and lead a discussion with students about this video and how that connects to broader human rights issues. Although dialogue surrounding Israel and Palestine have a place in civics and global education, one-sided learning and antisemitic theories do not have a space in any OCDSB classroom.”