Martow, Lantsman Vie for Tory Nod in Thornhill

Nov. 27, 2020

By LILA SARICK

Two women, Gila Martow and Melissa Lantsman, both Jewish and both with deep roots in the Conservative party, have announced they are seeking the federal Tory nomination in Thornhill riding.

Peter Kent
Peter Kent

Last month, Conservative MP Peter Kent, who has represented the riding since 2008, said he would not run again.

Martow, 59, and currently the MPP for the riding, says she was “inundated with messages” from Thornhill residents who urged her to seek the nomination when Kent announced he was retiring from politics.

“My team thinks that we need effective local representation to hold the riding blue (Conservative) in the next federal election,” she told the CJR.

Martow, an optometrist, was first elected in 2014. Recently, she was credited with proposing legislation that eased the rules on patio seating for restaurants during the COVID pandemic. She is currently parliamentary assistant to Minister of Francophone Affairs Caroline Mulroney.

Gila Martow
Gila Martow

In 2016, Martow introduced a motion making Ontario the first province to reject the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Thornhill, which has the highest concentration of Jews of any riding, estimated at 37 percent, cannot be considered a safe Conservative seat, she said. Although Kent held the seat for 12 years, he worked very hard every election to keep it a Tory stronghold, she said.

The nomination meeting will be held early in the new year. Martow said it’s unlikely the Conservative party would appoint a candidate, as the federal Liberal party did recently in two high-profile Toronto byelections. The public “wants to see strong candidates and the way that you get those candidates is by having those nomination meetings,” she said.

Interest in the race is high, and party memberships “are flying out the door.”

A few weeks ago, Martow said that she and Lantsman agreed that Lantsman would seek the provincial seat in Thornhill and that the two candidates had agreed to support each other.

However, Lantsman said she is attracted to federal politics.

Melissa Lantsman
Melissa Lantsman

“It’s where my interest is, it’s where I spent most of my time in politics. I think I would bring a new fresh voice to the Conservative party under [leader] Erin O’Toole and to the constituents in Thornhill.”

Lantsman, 36, was chief spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford during his 2018 election campaign. From 2007 to 2015, she served as communications director for federal ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade and environment.

“I think it’s important to bring a new generation under the Conservative banner. We’ve lost many, particularly around the last election, that didn’t see themselves in the party,” she said.

“I’ve spent the better part of my life speaking on issues that I just don’t think we speak about enough.” Among the issues Lanstman wants to raise are gender and racial equality, and the environment.

A federal election could be called anytime, depending on the fortunes of the minority Liberal government, Martow said. “We need to be ready for a spring election.”

In the meantime, the competitive nomination race is a good sign for the party, Lantsman said.

“Having strong women with a history of activism and community involvement in the Conservative party speaks volumes to what this party is going to attract in the next election.”

Ontario Honours Holocaust Survivors

Nov. 10, 2020 

By LILA SARICK

Ten Holocaust survivors who have made it their mission to educate younger generations about the dangers of antisemitism and racism were honoured by the Ontario government in a virtual ceremony on Nov. 5.

The annual ceremony, usually held at Queen’s Park, was scheduled for last spring but postponed due to COVID. This year’s virtual event was held during Holocaust Education Week, Nov. 2-9.

The theme of this year’s event was “passing the torch” – fitting, given that the honourees were all speakers at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and had dedicated hours to talking to students about their experiences, said Fran Sonshine national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, in remarks that were recorded earlier at the Holocaust memorial in Toronto’s Earl Bales Park.

This year’s honorees were Hedy Bohm, Esther Fairbloom, Pola Goldhar, Denise (Fikman) Hans, Mark Lane, Faigie (Schmidt) Libman, Rose Lipszyc (née Handelsman), Captain Martin Maxwell, Andy Réti and Gershon Israel Willinger.

Each honoree had received a certificate, often surrounded by their children and grandchildren, in outdoor ceremonies recorded earlier.

The survivors spoke briefly, often thanking Canada for taking them in after the Second World War, and giving them a second chance to build a life – and about the importance of teaching young people about the Holocaust.

“I hope in the future to continue Holocaust education,” said Bohm. “My goal has been and always was to make young people feel empowered to stand up and speak against any type of prejudice.”

Debbie Estrin of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem presents a tribute from the government of Ontario to Capt. Martin Maxwell. Looking on is Maxwell’s wife, Eleanor. (Photo courtesy Canadian Society for Yad Vashem)

MPPs Roman Baber, Will Bouma, Rima Berns-McGown, Gila Martow, and Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, introduced each honoree.

Premier Doug Ford praised the honourees’ “unbelievable bravery,” saying their “resilience and strength continue to inspire me.”

Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, spoke about the “alarming rise” of antisemitism, assaults and Holocaust denial, even in democratic, western societies.

“What I have to come to realize is that the Sisyphean task of combating antisemitism necessitates continuous activity on three levels: legislation, prosecution and education,” Baram said in her remarks.

“Every time elected officials speak up against antisemitism and draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, every time a Holocaust survivor provides testimony, every time a story of the Righteous Among the Nations is told in public, every step brings us closer to developing an antidote to hatred and racism,” Baram said.

To watch the ceremony, visit yadvashem.ca

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.”

Minister Orders ‘Offensive’ Video Removed From Classroom

July 29, 2020 – Ontario’s education minister has ordered the removal from the curriculum of an anti-Israel video that was used in the classroom.

The video was part of the curriculum in a Grade 10 online civics course, and accused “Zionists” of human rights violations, including depriving Palestinians of water.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

In a tweet on July 28, Education Minister Stephen Lecce stated: “Very concerned that this offensive material was on a learning website. Working with @gilamartow, I immediately ordered it to be taken down (it was that day) & investigated to ensure it never happens again. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form.”

In a statement on July 28, York Region District School Board (YRDSB) said it removed what it called the “biased” video from use in the classroom.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre reported on July 27 that according to the video, “the current occupation of the Palestinian land by the Zionists have [sic] violated the human rights of the Palestinians. They have deprived the Palestinians of natural resources, such as water, and taking [sic] the majority of it for themselves. The Zionists that are granted these privileges are backed by the military…This conflict continues to rage on because the Israelis continue to live as occupiers while the Palestinians live under occupation.”

After confirming with a YRDSB trustee that the video was part of the official curriculum, FSWC wrote to Lecce for confirmation that the video has been removed from the curriculum for all courses in the province.

When a parent complained to the YRDSB about the video, it was removed from the course’s online portal, FSWC said.

“It has come to our attention that during an e-learning Civics and Careers Continuing Education course, a video that showed a biased point of view on the Israel/ Palestinian conflict was shared with online participants,” said Louise Sirisko, YRDSB Director of Education, in a statement.

She said the video was created and distributed by e-Learning Ontario and is included in the resources for the revised e-Learning Civics and Careers curriculum. This particular video was part of a selection of four videos that are available to all school boards in Ontario, Sirisko noted.

“While this is not a YRDSB video, or a YRDSB course, we would like to be clear that we do not support the sharing of biased content or misinformation to students. We brought this to the attention of the Ministry of Education’s E-Learning Ontario, and the video has been reviewed and removed from the resources available to school boards.

“YRDSB continues to work to create learning spaces, including virtually, that are safe, welcoming and inclusive.

“We are disappointed that some of our students were hurt by this video and please know that the views expressed are not indicative of the beliefs of the YRDSB school community. If parents have concerns about their child and feel that they need additional support, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s school,” Sirisko added.

In the letter to Lecce, FSWC’s Director of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, wrote, “We are absolutely appalled by this biased anti-Israel video, which vilifies the Jewish people of Israel and contains dangerous misinformation.”

While FSWC said it “appreciates” the response from Lecce and the YRDSB, it awaits a reply to how such a video ended up in the resources for the Civics and Careers curriculum and was approved by the Ministry of Education, “as well as what steps will be taken to prevent the distribution of such dangerous misinformation to Ontario school boards in the future.”

– CJR Staff