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.”

BREAKING: West Bank Wine Case Shuts Out Interveners

Oct. 8, 2020

Jewish advocacy groups will not have a say in the case of the wine labels from Israel.

In a recent ruling, a Federal Court judge denied intervener status to a dozen organizations that sought input in the ongoing challenge to wines made in the West Bank but labeled as “Product of Israel.”

Psagot Winery

They included the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

One of wineries at the centre of the case, Psagot Winery Ltd., was added to the case as a respondent, but the court said its participation “must be limited.”

At issue in the case is whether wines produced by the Psagot and Shiloh wineries in West Bank Jewish settlements can be labeled as “Product of Israel” under Canadian law.

Last year, a Federal Court judge found that “made in Israel” labels on settlement wines are “false, misleading and deceptive” because international law does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, and that Canadians have a right shop “conscientiously.” She returned the case to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s appeals board for further consideration.

The government appealed her ruling. But before the appeal could be heard, a judge dismissed everyone who wanted to weigh in on the case, saying, in effect, that the court will not be drawn into a battle over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his ruling, Federal Court of Appeal Judge David Stratas said that “a number” of parties wishing to intervene wanted to address “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including the status of the West Bank, the territorial sovereignty of Israel, human rights and humanitarian concerns, issues of international law, and other related issues. Many of them appear to want this Court to rule on the merits of these issues.

“But there is one basic problem,” the judge wrote. “This appeal does not raise the merits of these issues.”

He said the case should properly rest on Canadian laws regulating the labeling of food and drugs, which are designed to protect consumers. There is “nothing to suggest,” Stratas said, that these laws “were enacted to address state occupation of territories and, in particular, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”

The Israel/West Bank issue “is a controversial one, with many differing views and deeply-felt opinions on all sides,” the judge went on. However, it is not “useful” for the appeals court to hear the interveners.

In addition to CIJA and B’nai Brith, Stratas dismissed requests to intervene from Independent Jewish Voices, the Centre for Free Expression, Amnesty International Canada, Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, Prof. Michael Lynk (the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights), the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, the Transnational Law and Justice Network, and Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, Al-Haq.

Independent Jewish Voices and B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights were interveners in the Federal Court case.

Stratas also took aim at other judges who “give the impression that they decide cases based on their own personal preferences, politics and ideologies. Increasingly, they wander into the public square and give virtue signalling and populism a go.”

The judge said he didn’t want to be too hard on the prospective interveners, saying he suspects that some of them were “lured” to the appeal “by torqued-up press reports distorting what the Federal Court decided. And once one group applies to intervene on a controversial issue like this, others feel they also have to apply.”

The Psagot winery, about 20 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem in an Israeli settlement of the same name, was added to the case as a respondent because the court should have notified it of the case, said the judge. The court said the winery was “never invited” to join the case but should have been, and that it found out about the matter from media reports.

The winery “is pleased to have been granted the opportunity to be a party to this important legal proceeding,” said its lawyers, David Elmaleh and Aaron Rosenberg of the Toronto firm RE-LAW.

The firm’s website leaves little doubt about how it feels when it comes to the winery’s legal status:

“Psagot Winery’s wines are produced by Israelis under the auspices of an Israeli company in an Israeli community on Israeli land subject to Israeli law, in the State of Israel, and in the Land of Israel. Its wines are products of Israel.”

In a statement to the CJR, David Matas, legal counsel to the League for Human Rights, found fault with Stratas’ “over-generalizations.”

Also, this ruling was made by a single judge. “Yet the appeal itself will be heard, presumably, by a panel of three judges. The other two members of the panel might disagree with this judge on many of the statements he made.”

Interveners may ask the court to reconsider its decision within 10 days of the ruling, but “it is too early for B’nai Brith Canada to decide whether we will or will not do so.”

The case goes back to 2017, when Winnipeg resident David Kattenburg raised concerns with Ontario’s liquor board that products from the two wineries were from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, not from Israel itself, and were deceptively labeled as “Product of Israel.”

He then complained to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which sided with him. However, after Jewish groups protested, the agency abruptly reversed course, saying the wines could be sold under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Kattenburg appealed to the agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office, which upheld the reversal. He then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court.

The court sided with Kattenburg, and Jewish groups urged an appeal based on what they said were errors committed by the judge. The government agreed. Due to delays brought about by COVID, it is not clear when the matter will be heard.

* The above clarifies that the Psagot winery was added to this case as a respondent, not an internever.

– By CJR Staff