Jewish advocacy groups are demanding answers after an employee of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was reinstated, without being disciplined, for distributing unapproved pro-Palestinian resource material to teachers.
The episode has led the TDSB to develop further resources on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and sentiments on Israel and Palestinians.
In May, as fighting between Israel and Hamas raged, the board placed Javier Davila, a Student Equity Program Advisor, on home assignment and investigated him for posting the material to a TDSB listserv for educators.
According to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), on May 16 and 19, Davila composed and distributed two sets of “resources for educators” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The guides contained extremely disturbing content, including the glorification of violence, most notably through the veneration of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a listed terrorist entity in Canada,” noted CIJA’s Noah Shack.
At the time, the board said that the resources in question had not been reviewed or approved, and that Davila’s previous group mailings and newsletters would be scrubbed from TDSB email inboxes.
On the morning of July 16, a smiling Davila announced on Twitter than he had been reinstated “without discipline.”
After an “extensive” investigation, Davila was returned to his duties and was not formally disciplined, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird confirmed to The CJN in an email on July 19.
Davila’s resources were not vetted prior to distribution, Bird acknowledged.
“Had they been, they would not have been approved given the potential impact on students, staff and families in our school communities.”
Bird said the board is currently reviewing resources “of this nature and the appropriate vetting process that must be followed to avoid something like this happening again.”
While acknowledging “the public interest in the findings of the investigation,” the board would not provide further details “as this is a personnel matter.”
Bird said the TDSB is working to finalize the secondment of a staff member from the National Council of Canadian Muslims and CIJA to help develop resources on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Israel and anti-Palestinian sentiments.
“We are optimistic that together, we will be able to use this important partnership to benefit our students and staff.”
In a statement accompanying his tweet, Davila said he has been involved in “Palestine solidarity work” for nearly two decades, and has “long been targeted for standing up for Palestinian rights.”
He said he received a lot of support, noting this was the first time there has been “a critical mass of vocal supporters for Palestinian liberation. I hope this offers those of you who are hesitant the courage to break the fear barrier and offer your daily commitment and actions to resist anti-Palestinian racism, settler colonialism, and #SayPalestine. Our students are depending on it.”
He cited a petition from Jewish parents that said the resources Davila shared were “in no way anti-Semitic,” adding that they reject the notion that Palestinian and Jewish human rights stand in opposition to each other.
Still, Jewish organizations took the TDSB to task for being soft on Davila.
“It is outrageous that an individual who distributed materials associated with a listed terrorist entity has been reinstated by the TDSB without any discipline,” CIJA said in a media statement. “Failure to attach consequences to hateful behaviours undermines the safety and wellbeing of students and staff.”
CIJA provided a long list of examples of Davila’s posts, including one quoting a document saying that Palestinians “have been legitimately resisting racism, colonization, and genocide since the 1920’s to the present day by any means necessary: general strikes, demonstrations, armed struggle, and martyrdom operations (called ‘suicide bombing’ by Zionists).”
Another speaks of “death which is desired by a warrior.”
The resources distributed by Davila have “poisoned that environment,” CIJA charged. “Materials supporting the PFLP should be as intolerable as those supporting ISIS or the Ku Klux Klan.”
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said the board’s failure to discipline Davila sends “a clear signal that it regards Jewish students, Jewish teachers and the Jewish community as second-class constituents.”
There is “no way” the TDSB would tolerate “the glorification of violence against any other minority group,” Mostyn added. “It is clear that the TDSB has a serious anti-Semitism problem, and it is questionable whether the institution can fix it alone,” he said.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) said it was “demanding answers” after learning of Davila’s reinstatement.
It said it has been “flooded” with calls and emails from teachers and parents who were “in shock” after seeing Davila’s statement.
Davila sent out more than 100 pages of resources to teachers “demonizing and dehumanizing Jews and Israel with vile and incendiary lies and misinformation, including a recommendation that teachers turn to a website featuring documents from a terrorist organization to learn more,” FSWC’s Jaime Kirzner-Roberts stated in a letter to TDSB Director of Education Karen Falconer.
“[Davila] claims to have been let off the hook by TDSB with absolutely no consequences for his actions. If this is an accurate description of the facts, we find this outcome incomprehensible and outrageous. What message does this send to the Jewish teachers and students in your board?”
FSWC said it is awaiting a response from the board.