The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has banned an annual event called Israeli Apartheid Week from all board properties, after a North York trustee voiced his condemnation.
York Centre trustee James Pasternak drafted a motion expressing his opposition to the event, which he plans to bring to the board at their next general meeting on March 10. After the provincial legislature adopted a resolution to condemn the annual event, TDSB Director of Education Chris Spence posted a statement at www.tdsb.on.ca effectively banning participation by students or staff on TDSB property.
“Our educational goal includes the building of understanding, trust and co-operation among groups and individuals in the TDSB. The event called ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ has the effect of fostering ill-will and disharmony among groups and individuals,” wrote Spence.
At the heart of the issue is a heated discussion regarding past and current conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip. Both sides are strongly represented by immigrant populations in Canada, but Pasternak has an issue with this event. He claims it is strongly biased against Israel and does not foster cooperation and healthy discussion amongst students.
Wanting to go one step further than banning the event from the TDSB, Pasternak wants the board to send an official letter to the University of Toronto (U of T), where the event was started by students six years ago and is still granted campus space to present their views.
University President David Naylor posted a letter on the school’s website which seemed to be an indirect rebuttal to Pasternak’s concerns.
“From time to time, however, we are asked to ban discussion of certain subjects or censor certain presentations. We examine those requests on their merits, but the bar to take such actions is high,” wrote Naylor. “Freedom of speech is a core value for any university in a democratic society. Younger members of our community will eventually enter a world in which heated arguments occur and careless or inflammatory rhetoric is not uncommon. We do them no service to shelter them from those realities.”
The TDSB and the Government of Ontario have made their stances on Israeli Apartheid Week clear, but that isn’t stopping organizers from continuing with numerous events in campuses and public areas across Toronto and about 60 other cities around the world.
“We are very effective at getting across a message that some people don’t want to hear,” said Jenny Peto, a veteran organizer with Israeli Apartheid Week and master’s student at U of T. “It has brought so much attention to the situation of apartheid that is going on in Israel and Palestine.”
Apartheid is a term originally used to describe the South African policy of racially segregating people, which was abolished in the 1990’s. Peto feels the term is applicable to what she describes as a “brutal military occupation,” by Israel.
“The term apartheid really gets people’s backs up, partially because I think deep down they understand that it is so accurate,” said Peto. “Apartheid is not just something that happened in South Africa, it is a crime under international law; a systemic separation of people and discrimination based on their ethnicity… the accuracy, care and effectiveness of what we are doing scares people, like the people who want everyone to support Israel and don’t want to hear what we have to say.”
No Israeli Apartheid Week events will be held in TDSB locations, but will continue as planned in other locations until it concludes in Toronto on March 6.