Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Toronto high school teacher links students to antisemitic web sites" by Brian Henry

A teacher at a Toronto public high school recently posted a link on the school’s Facebook page to an article on the antisemitic website Veteran’s Today. The article itself wasn’t antisemitic, more anti-Canadian, but it raised my eyebrows, especially when I saw other articles that had been linked to.

Virginia Pang, the principal of The Student School, told me that the article was for a politics class about the Canadian electoral system and whether it’s fair and open.  The teacher’s mistake, Pang said, was not to check out the website.

I’ll say. The article was originally published by Iran’s Press TV, which has been conducting a propaganda offensive against Canada since our government broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. (More on Iran's anti-Canadian propaganda here.) This particular article claims that a Canadian court ruled that the 2011 election of Stephen Harper was fraudulent.

The story was also covered by all the legitimate Canadian media. The court did find that fraud was committed in the election  by persons unknown  but contrary to Iranian propaganda, the fraud had no effect on the election’s outcome. 

“Fascist,” said a comment on the school’s Facebook posting, apparently in reference to  Stephen Harper, and a teacher at the school “liked” this comment.[i]

Perhaps the teacher did so to encourage discussion, the principal suggested.

Unfortunately, the teacher himself wouldn't talk to me. If he had, I might have suggested that a high school teacher should understand enough history to know that the government of Canada isn’t fascist.

The teacher did take down the link to Veteran’s Today as soon as he learned he’d directed students to an antisemitic website. Since my chat with the principal and with Ryan Bird, a communications officer with the Toronto District School Board, The Student School has taken down its whole Facebook page and is combing through it to remove other inappropriate postings.

David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan,
is the kind of  guy Press TV likes to interview.
Another Student School posting linked to an article on Press TV. As a propaganda arm of the Iranian government, Press TV is antisemitic and shares the Iranian government’s malice toward Israel. I asked the principal if the teacher understood what Press TV is. She said she didn’t think so.

The linked article accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing against its Bedouin population.[ii] There is a plan to move many of the Bedouin of the Negev Desert from their current homes in impoverished unregulated villages. The plan is highly controversial and has been covered in detail by the legitimate media in Israel. (Outside Israel, there’s little interest in the issue.)

But unlike Press TV, the legitimate media explains the plan is not to remove the Bedouin from the Negev, as suggested by the phrase “ethnic cleansing.” 

Nor – even in the Press TV coverage – is there any suggestion the Israelis are committing murder, torture, rape, or any other heinous practices associated with ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, where the term originated.  

Rather, the Bedouin are to be moved into towns close to their current homes, but with running water, flush toilets and schools. They will also receive cash compensation.

The Press TV article is just as weak on what’s wrong with this plan. Reading Israeli media, you’d learn that at least some Bedouin want the government to bring running water and other municipal services to their villages, rather than moving them elsewhere and complain they weren’t consulted about this plan.

But these sorts of real issues are largely absent from the Press TV article. Also, of course, in keeping with its standard practices, Press TV doesn’t interview anyone actually responsible for the plan. After all, to do that, they'd have to interview a Jew.[iii]

Ryan Bird, the TDSB communications officer I spoke to, told me that the teacher had said the purpose of these postings was to spark a conversation in class. “It’s not a one-sided discussion,” he said.

Good. Still, given that there are many high quality articles about the planned relocation of the Bedouin, I would have liked to ask The Student School teacher why he chose to link to an article composed of baseless accusations and lies and a notable absence of facts.

Cartoon from Richard Falk's blog: Dog in Jewish skull cap
and American sweater eats people and pisses on Justice
Another posting by a Student School teacher linked to an article on Richard Falk’s blog about “heroic” Palestinians hunger strikers, protesting their detention by Israel.

Falk is the UN’s Special Human Rights Rapporteur to the Occupied Territories and a notorious anti-Israel bigot. The governments of Canada and the UK have condemned Falk for antisemitic comments and material he’s posted on his blog  that being the blog a Student School teacher linked to.

Falk has approved suicide bombings, compared Israelis to Nazis and Hamas terrorists to French resistance fighters, suggested the US was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and blamed Israel for the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon.

As Falk has never had any problem with Palestinian terrorism, naturally he also supports their hunger strike.

Hopefully, the class discussion about this article at The Student School concerned why the UN has a human rights rapporteur who’s a bigot.

Another posting by a Student School teacher linked to a petition calling on the Red Hot Chili Peppers to cancel their performance in Israel;[iv]  another, linked to an article about the Teacher’s Union of Ireland voting to support an academic boycott of Israel.

Hopefully, the teacher opened the class discussion about that article by noting that in Canada the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality. So for a school to support an academic boycott and to spurn a teacher or student because they’re Israeli would be illegal.

I do believe the teacher does his best to make sure in-class discussions don’t give only one side of controversial issues, but a discussion that begins with Israel in the dock, accused of some crime, is imbalanced from the get go.

Besides, I doubt a teacher who doesn’t know what Press TV is understands the Middle East well enough to guide a classroom discussion of such controversial issues.

The Chili Pepper rock Tel Aviv

And given, the articles The Student School links to, I can’t help but worry that it has teachers who are biased against Israel, regardless of reassurances from the principal and from Ryan Bird, the School Board’s communication officer.

However, things clearly have improved at the school. Back in 2008, The Student School founded the first (and perhaps only) high school chapter of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, an odious group that calls on people to shun Israelis.

Readers will recall that in 2010, all parties in the Ontario Legislature unanimously condemned CAIA’s annual Apartheid Week.

Ryan Bird reports that this group doesn't exist at the school anymore and that the school does not support a boycott against Israel.

Well good! But still, as a parent and as a Canadian, schools such as The Student School that define their purpose as the pursuit of “social justice” or "social activism" make me nervous.

Too often, “justice” is just a name people give to their political agenda. And even well-meaning teachers, without an agenda, aren't equipped to navigate controversial issues. Because, unfortunately, the world of political activism is full of people untethered to reality and seething with anger, bigotry and antisemitism.

Note: Lots more of my commentary over at Brian's blog.

[i]  Given the student was directed to this site by his teacher and the article suggests a Canadian judge ruled that  Stephen Harper stole the 2011 election, I don’t think it’s crazy for the student to have believed the article and to have called Harper a fascist. It’s the teacher who should have brought some perspective  to the issue, and of course who shouldn’t have directed students to Iranian propaganda to begin with.

[ii] The Press TV article linked to by The Student School also accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing during its War of Independence. Anyone who can count knows the real ethnic cleansing in 1948 took place on the other side, as following ’48 the Jewish population of the Gaza strip and of Judea and Samaria was reduced to zero while many Arabs remained in Israel and still compose 20% of its population today.

But who knows? Perhaps the complexities of the 1948 conflict were covered during an in-class discussion, which perhaps also touched on the marked disappearance of Jews from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and the other Arab countries. (More on how Jews were driven out of Arab countries here.)

[iii] Of course Press TV will interview Jews who hate Israel. Even the worst antisemites generally make exceptions for Jews they can co-opt.  

[iv] Whenever a big name act announces a visit to Israel, the anti-Israel crowd deluges the performer with emails begging them to ostracize the Jewish state and threatening them if they don’t. I’m happy to report that the Chili Peppers ignored the haters and played to a sold-out crowd of 50,000 in Tel Aviv.

Note: A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the Jewish Tribune.
And let me give a grateful hat tip to Eye on a Crazy Planet and to Socialist Studies for first bringing the strange links on The Student School’s Facebook page to light.

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