The Peel District School Board has responded to the controversy swirling around an anti-Semitic sign at one of its schools, following a meeting with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
As reported in The CJN last week, a banner hung at Stephen Lewis Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., suggested that Israel is conducting human testing on Palestinian prisoners. It was taken down on April 12. Officials at the board said it was part of a Grade 12 class project.
Noah Shack, CIJA’s vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area, said he was “outraged and disturbed” that students at the school promoted “anti-Semitic blood libels against Israelis.”
Following a meeting on April 16 with “senior leaders” from the school and the board, CIJA said the board confirmed that it had cancelled the project and that all materials and social media posts associated with it had been removed.
As well, CIJA wrote in a press release that the board “has explained to students and staff involved that this project was rooted in falsehoods and constitutes a modern-day anti-Semitic blood libel; has committed to take measures to ensure an incident like this never occurs again within its schools; committed to take appropriate disciplinary action as necessary to address this incident; (and) to use this incident as an educational opportunity to teach students about the nature and dangers of anti-Semitism.
“The board will work with CIJA and the Jewish community to conduct staff training on anti-Semitism, recognizing the need to address systemic challenges and a problematic climate in the school.”
The incident “struck a deep nerve within our community. Rightly so,” Shack noted. “Together, we demonstrated that we will never be silent when – just days before Passover – ancient blood libels are revived.”
In its own statement, the board said it reaffirmed its “unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism in all of its forms. We acknowledge and take full responsibility for the profound, negative impact these materials have caused to many members of the community, including our students, their families, staff and the broader Jewish community.”
Peter Joshua, the board’s director of education, said, “I would like to offer a formal apology to all of those exposed to these hurtful materials. There is no place in our schools for hatred of any kind and we are committed to doing better.”
The poster, which was made in the Grade 12 equity and social justice: from theory to practice course, “contained links to misinformation and constitutes a disturbing, modern-day anti-Semitic blood libel trope,” Joshua said.
“We have determined that it was not the teacher or the students’ intention to promote what they now understand to be false allegations. Their project was unintentionally rooted in falsehoods, is anti-Semitic and has been stopped.”
He said that while the project’s intent was to advocate for the protection of human rights, it “discriminated against members of the Jewish community by perpetuating anti-Semitism. This has no place in our schools or anywhere in Peel Region and beyond.”
The board is conducting an investigation.
CIJA called the board’s statement “a welcome commitment to address this serious incident in a meaningful way.”