Toronto school board trustee Alexandra Lulka criticized for calling out antisemitic teaching resources

TDSB trustee Alexandra Lulka

A new report has called for the censure of a Toronto school board trustee who called out antisemitism in materials distributed to teachers earlier this year.

The report, by the Toronto District School Board Integrity Commissioner, criticizes trustee Alexandra Lulka, who is Jewish, for failing to note positive aspects of materials the commissioner admits is antisemitic and promotes terrorism.

In a news release, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), called that position “astonishingly unreasonable.”

“It is astonishingly unreasonable to compel a Jewish trustee calling out Jew-hatred to also highlight positive elements in the resources. The recommendation to censure her for not doing so is misguided and must be rejected,” CIJA vice-president Noah Shack said. “Punishing Trustee Lulka is contrary to the values of an educational institution purporting to engender learning and mutual respect.”

Lulka did not respond to The CJN’s request for comment before deadline.

In May, TDSB student equity advisor Javier Davila was investigated for distributing 100 pages of unapproved and unvetted “resources to educators” to teachers who had signed up on an email list, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Those materials were attacked for glorifying terrorism and violence against Israelis.

Among examples cited by CIJA are statements 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).”

The material included a link to the website of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a listed terrorist organization in Canada.

Davila was returned to his duties in July without discipline.

In response to that material, Lulka tweeted “I was deeply disturbed to recently discover that virulently anti-Israel and even antisemitic materials were distributed to TDSB teachers through an opt-in list by a TDSB employee.

“I was outraged to discover that some of this material justifies suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism. This is reprehensible. These materials were provided by an employee from the TDSB equity department, the very department that should be countering antisemitism and violence, not fanning the flames.”

The integrity investigator found Lulka’s statement “fundamentally mischaracterized materials which were intended to, and do for the most part … center the voices of marginalized Palestinians (particularly those of Palestinian children) as well as Muslims more broadly, and … assist educators in understanding and discussing the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and human rights in a manner that provides thoughtful guidance on how one might critique the Israeli government and army without perpetuating antisemitism.”

“(Lulka) could have carefully crafted a statement to call out the potentially harmful materials while appropriately characterizing other materials as important, positive pro-Palestinian discourse. … If (Lulka) had stated only that she had learned that there were some troubling materials that may promote antisemitism contained within a larger mailout, and that she would be asking that the TDSB determine how these materials were permitted to be distributed, she would not have been found to be furthering anti-Muslim tropes and would likely not have violated the Code …”

Jewish advocacy groups called such reasoning a “double standard” and warned any censure of Lulka “will have a chilling effect on Jewish students, staff, and educators who are already feeling intimidated to share their lived experience of antisemitism within the TDSB and speak out against Jew-hatred when they see it,” CIJA said in its news release.

“When resources that include Jew-hatred and promoting terrorist groups banned under Canadian law are distributed to educators to use in the classroom, there must be accountability,” CIJA added. “When antisemitism is promoted or supported by Board staff, unequivocal condemnation is required. All too often, a double standard has been applied when it comes to antisemitism within the TDSB, and the impact of Jew-hatred is erased or excused. The Board must take immediate, meaningful, and reparative action to fix the rot of antisemitism, particularly with its Human Rights Office.”

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre said it was “shocked by the bizarre and contradictory” investigation and findings.

The call to censure Lulka, the agency said in a news release, “is an absurd and remarkable conclusion, given that even the Integrity Commissioner acknowledged that some of the materials indeed contributed to antisemitism.”

FSWC called the report’s conclusion’s “unjustified” and holding Lulka to an “unreasonable” standard. It also called on the board to “completely re-evaluate its double-standard approach to dealing with antisemitism. It should apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism it adopted in 2018, and address its Human Rights Office’s limited view of the definition of antisemitism.”

“This outrageous process against TDSB Trustee Alexandra Lulka is just the latest manifestation of the institutional antisemitism afflicting the TDSB,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, FSWC’s director of policy. “Not only is the investigation and its findings unjust, but it’s ridiculous that the person who calls out a transgression is being punished but the person responsible for the transgression was not.

“It is critical for TDSB to continue to address discrimination in all its forms, but that must include antisemitism, which sadly has not received the same attention as other forms of hate. We call for the development of a comprehensive action plan on antisemitism that will value the voices of Jewish staff, students and families in the TDSB community, action that is long overdue.”

In response to the controversy, TDSB has appointed an internal team to “support, complement and augment” resources dedicated to the Israel-Palestine issue. It is also offering professional development learning on antisemitism, anti-Muslim hate and is gathering guidance from agencies such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The report’s findings are to be discussed in public at the TDSB meeting scheduled for Dec. 8.