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.”

An Undelivered Submission on Bill 168

Nov. 2, 2020

On Oct. 26, Ontario’s cabinet surprised many when it decided to bypass committee hearings and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, contained in Bill 168, the “Combating Antisemitism Act.” Ontario thus became Canada’s first province to adopt the definition.

Bill 168 passed second reading earlier this year and according to one source, more than 100 Ontarians had requested a chance to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy to have their say – both for and against adopting the IHRA definition, or to suggest amendments.

Among the undelivered deputations was the following from Randi Skurka, appearing as an individual.


Good morning/afternoon, 

Firstly, I’d like to thank the committee for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing.

As the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world today, endorsed by a growing number of countries, academic bodies, even making inroads in the Middle East, it is crucial that Ontario adopt the IHRA definition.

I am forever grateful to my grandparents, who bravely left Poland a century ago to make their home here in Toronto. Fleeing pogroms and deeply ingrained prejudices, they came in search of a better life where they could live as Jews in freedom and safety. My 92-year-old father remembers the antisemitism he experienced as a young person, even here. I grew up believing that those days were over. But I was wrong.

According to Statistics Canada, Jews are the most targeted group for police-reported hate crimes in the country. Jewish students on campuses across Canada have been singled out, ostracized or attacked for years simply for expressing their Jewish identity. For example, over the past year alone, they were denied kosher food at the University of Toronto, kicked off the student union at McGill University for planning a visit to Israel, and at York University, were threatened with violence for attending a talk featuring Israeli speakers. Antisemitism masquerading behind the veneer of anti-Zionism is a growing problem in Canada and internationally.

It all starts with words. When Israel Apartheid Week was launched at U of T in 2005, it used hateful rhetoric singling out Israel alone as a human rights abuser. Together with the BDS movement, which has been condemned by our own prime minister, Justin Trudeau, as blatantly antisemitic, these campaigns have proliferated around the world, creating a toxic atmosphere in which harassment and targeting of Jewish students have become mainstream.

These movements represent themselves as peaceful, nonviolent forms of protest. But the last two decades have proven otherwise. Conceived by known anti-Israel activists, whose clearly stated goals are the complete elimination of the State of Israel, the manifestation of these movements has been nothing less than the total isolation and social death of any student or faculty member that dares to defend Israel’s right to exist. 

A recent survey has shown that the Canadian Jewish community, small but mighty, defines itself with things like Holocaust remembrance, tradition, and working for social justice. Though widely diverse religiously and politically, one feature among all others unites them – for a full 86 percent of Canadian Jews, their connection to Israel is an important and essential part of their identity. 

The IHRA definition clearly states that criticism of Israel in the form of civil discourse is not considered antisemitic. Yet, all too often, this criticism is presented in a historical vacuum without any sense of context, intended to mislead its audience. This is exactly what the Soviet Union did starting in the late 1940’s – take those old canards and hateful caricatures, and harness them to persecute and demonize Jews now behind a façade of anti-Zionism. How soon we have forgotten the decades of oppression and incarceration of Soviet Jewish dissidents simply because of their identity.

These are the same dangerous myths that are rearing their ugly heads today.

Just this past July, two anti-Israel rallies, one in Toronto, one in Mississauga, graphically demonstrated how anti-Zionism is used as a cover for plain old antisemitism. They were organized by known hate groups with a strong presence on Ontario campuses. Far from peaceful, they quickly devolved into hatemongering and incitement to violence, with the chanting of slogans such as “intifada, intifada”, “from the river to the sea,” and most frightening of all, “The Jews are our dogs.” Is this any way to rally for human rights, here, in Ontario?

The Arab-Israeli conflict is longstanding and very complex. The only way to resolve the issues is for the two parties to sit down together at the negotiating table and have direct dialogue. Just recently, Canada applauded as Sudan followed UAE and Bahrain in establishing a peace agreement with Israel. The Middle East is rapidly changing and finally acknowledging Israel as a partner and a neighbour. This is the way of true progress and liberalism.

It’s time to leave the ancient myths and medieval tropes in the past, where they belong. To embrace each other and give each other space. To listen to one other. To rely on data and facts on the ground. To promote freedom. To build bridges, instead of threatening destruction. The IHRA definition of antisemitism will help to confront the escalating revival of an ancient hatred, and stop it once and for all, so that all of us may feel welcome and safe.

Thank you.


Randi Skurka

Randi Skurka is a writer and lay leader in the Jewish community, with a focus on education and antisemitism. She sits on the boards of Beth Sholom Synagogue and StandWithUs Canada, and holds a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies.

Barrie Endorses Antisemitism Definition

Sept. 22, 2020 – As expected, the City of Barrie has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, after withdrawing the motion a month earlier for further consideration.

City council on Sept. 21 unanimously adopted a resolution that Barrie endorse the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, as codified at the IHRA plenary in May 2016.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

It was the same resolution Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman withdrew at the 11th hour last month just before it was to go before the city’s General Council.

Lehman and members of council had received some 200 letters and emails, the vast majority from outside Barrie, opposing adoption of the IHRA definition, alleging its acceptance would stifle criticism of Israel and silence pro-Palestinian activism.

In a recent CJR interview, Lehman said he withdrew the measure party because he didn’t want council making a decision based solely on opposition to it.

The full council “needed to hear why this was important and to hear from our local community, which really hadn’t mobilized that way,” he said. “To be frank, I don’t think anybody really expected that degree of opposition.”

In the interim, Lehman said he received support for the definition’s passage from “well beyond the [local] Jewish community. We had a number of community leaders speak to city council, and send in letters and emails of support.”

Councillors heard from both sides Monday night.

Rabbi Audrey Kaufman of Barrie’s Am Shalom Congregation told council the definition is not an attempt to silence criticism of Israel, reported Barrie 360.

“The IHRA definition has nothing to do with Israeli politics,” Rabbi Kaufman said in her deputation. “It’s not pro-Zionist, pro-Israel or anti-Palestinian. It does not prevent anyone from criticizing Israeli policies.”

She said accepting the IHRA definition “creates a sense of protection for the Barrie Jewish community. It is proof to us that expressions of hatred toward Jews will not be tolerated in this city and we have our municipal government’s full support,” Barrie 360 reported.

Critics of the IHRA definition called it counter-productive and said it has already been used to stifle Palestinian causes, including in this country.

The definition “has been used time and time again by its pro-Israel backers to silence voices for Palestinian human rights,” said Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, which led the charge against the measure.

In a statement, Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said that by adopting the resolution, the city “has sent a clear message: There is no place for antisemitism and hate in Barrie.”

Statistics Canada data confirm an “alarming trend of Jews being the country’s most frequent target of hate crime,” Shack continued. “This is not just a problem for Jewish communities – it harms society at large. The adoption of the IHRA definition is an important step in addressing this scourge. After all, you can’t effectively solve a problem if you can’t properly identify it.”

The definition has been endorsed by 35 countries, including Canada, and, according to CIJA, by the European Parliament and the United Nations. A bill incorporating the IHRA wording is before Ontario’s legislature.

Last week, the City of Brampton endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

– By CJR Staff