[Boycott - Academic]
Teacher's anti-Israel resolution angers Jewish group, parents, splits union
Colin Perkel, Canadian Press
17 January 2007
The motion put forward by Jason Kunin, an English teacher and Jewish activist who has frequently criticized Israeli government policies, and Hyssam Hulays, a computer science teacher, decries "Israel's continued violation of the human rights of Palestinians." Among other things, the Toronto teachers want the union to develop classroom materials on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to support an international boycott of Israel.
TORONTO (CP) - Two Ontario high school teachers who want their union to condemn Israel's treatment of Palestinians have angered Jewish groups and raised questions about the politicization of classrooms.
The teachers' motion, to be debated Thursday, has also unleashed a torrent of abuse against beleaguered union executives, who say critics fail to understand how democratic organizations function.
"The level of discourse has been just incredibly low and vile," Doug Jolliffe, president of the Toronto district of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said Wednesday.
"But to turn and say we cannot have any kind of discussions on this... It's not Holocaust denial, where there is no argument to be made."
The motion put forward by Jason Kunin, an English teacher and Jewish activist who has frequently criticized Israeli government policies, and Hyssam Hulays, a computer science teacher, decries "Israel's continued violation of the human rights of Palestinians."
Among other things, the Toronto teachers want the union to develop classroom materials on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to support an international boycott of Israel.
Their motion also calls on the union to press Prime Minister Stephen Harper to criticize Israel's "aggression" against Gaza and Lebanon, and to end sanctions against the Palestinians' Hamas government.
B'nai Brith [zionist lobby group] is trying to stifle the right of union members to put forward motions.
President of the Toronto district of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation
Neither Kunin nor Hulays returned calls to their schools Wednesday.
The motion, similar to one passed by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees last spring, has alarmed pro-Jewish groups such as B'nai Brith.
They argue that egregious human-rights abuses in other countries are ignored, there's no condemnation of Palestinian violence, and criticism of Israeli policies can quickly bleed into anti-Semitism.
The group has urged subscribers to its e-mail alert list to speak out against what it calls "inherently, one-sided, biased propaganda."
Anita Bromberg, a lawyer for B'nai Brith, said the group is also concerned by the prospect of unbalanced and potentially damaging teaching material finding its way into class.
"If it's based on biased, one-sided rhetoric, that kind of propaganda in the classroom can be nothing short of a tool of racism in the wrong hands," Bromberg said.
"There's no doubt that one's personal beliefs can form the basis of debate in the classroom."
Jolliffe, who neither supports the motion nor believes it will pass, said B'nai Brith is trying to stifle the right of union members to put forward motions.
About 150 of the federation's Toronto activists are expected at the union's District 12 monthly council meeting Thursday where the motion will be debated.
Rhonda Kimberley-Young, provincial president of the 60,000-member teachers federation, said she was "disappointed" at the attention paid to a motion that hadn't even been discussed yet.
"This is two members in one bargaining unit in one district trying to raise an issue for local debate," Kimberley-Young said.
"I am frustrated because it is a highly sensitive issue, a highly divisive issue (and) to have an irresponsible public debate on this can be quite fractious."
The federation, which is divided into 130 bargaining units in 35 districts across the province, has neither considered nor endorsed the motion, she stressed.
Source: http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id= 7a872fd7-fdf5-4e01-9bb8-d8132b743428&k=78312
Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation Misses Opportunity To Open Up Debate On Middle East
Montreal Muslim News Editorial
Under this intense pressure from B'nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League to muzzle dissent and expose the ungoing and well documented Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation rejected the motion.
Two Toronto high school teachers, English teacher and Jewish activist Jason Kunin, and computer science teacher Hyssam Hulays, recently put forth two motions to District 12 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation to hold a debate on whether the teacher's union should support a boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against Israel as well as endorse a report which exposes ongoing human rights violations against the Palestinian people. The debate was to be held on Thursday January 18. Initially the motion was approved by the Teacher's Federation, but then in steps B'nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League, who opposed holding the debate and adopting the motion altogther. B'nai Brith launched an e-mail campaign against holding the debate, urging list subscribers to speak out against what it calls "inherently, one-sided, biased propaganda," while the Jewish Defence League threatened to picket the meeting in which the debate was to be held.
The main objection of B'nai Brith was that they felt the motions, which they called anti-Israel propaganda, would turn anti-Semitic and that these sentiments would enter school classrooms. Frank Dimant, the executive director of B'nai B'rith, actually likened the motion to "bringing hate into the classroom."
In addition, the group argued that the motion ignores human-rights abuses in other countries and there's no condemnation of Palestinian violence.
Under this intense pressure from these two Jewish groups to muzzle dissent and expose the ungoing and well documented Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation rejected the motion.
Also, as reported in the January 19th edition of the National Post, Len Rudner, National Director of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress, stated the the proposed motion was unbalanced and would put teachers in a position where they would be taking sides in the long-running conflict rather than fostering healthy debate, although he sees no problem, it would appear, with the teachers taking a pro-Israeli position and silencing the debate altogether.
Rudner further stated that "The union has the right to involve itself in matters of the larger world, but it has a responsibility to do so in a constructive and balanced way," to which we respond by asking how can a debate be balanced if it is silenced from the start?
The Jewish Defense League has been deemed a right- wing terrorist group.
FBI 2001 Terrorism Report
In a press relase on Friday, the Canadain Jewish Congress claims it received dozens of calls from District 12 teachers before Thursday's meeting who said they recognized "the biased and unfair nature of the two motions." Yes indeed, speaking out against human rights abuses is most certainly unfair and biased in today's Orwellian political climate. While pro-Israeli groups harp on about human-rights activists ignoring human-rights abuses in other countries, which in fact they don't, they would expect everyone to overlook Israel's ungoing human-rights abuses as if that country has immunity from international law.
There are many concerns here regarding the actions of B'nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League.
First of all, the issue did not have anything to do with anti-semitism but was a legitmate issue of debate on a well known and ongoing issue which daily attracks the world's attention. It is important that those who wish to be informed about both sides of the issue and venture to speak out on the daily atrocities facing the Palestinian people be not cowed into silence by the threat of being called anti-Semitic. We are talking about a people who are passing though a living hell on earth. As merely one example of numerous reports available, please refer to report by Jan Egeland and Jan Eliasson in the Thursday 28 September 2006 addition of the newspaper La Figaro entitled "The Human Catastrophe of Gaza Is a Time Bomb," to know what we are talking about: http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/64/22822
Secondly, there is a free speech issue here where concerned individuals are seeking to highlight ongoing human rights abuses which are well documented and are not a matter of dispute. Although B'nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League state that the proposed motions are "inherently, one-sided, biased propaganda," in fact this can be said about the current media coverage of the events taking place the Middle East, with its consistent pro-Israel bias and distortions of the facts on the ground, and those who venture to speak out against Israeli artrocities are silenced or are accused of anti-semitism.
Finally, as for concerns over the politicization of classrooms, our children do not live in a vacuum. Classrooms are not a place to bury one's head in the sand and pretend that the rest of the world, with all of its problems, does not exsist. Our educational institutions should be a place where open debate and inquiry can take place and the facts presented as they are. Muzzling dissent and not allowing open discussion to take place, which is exactly what B'nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League have accopmplished with their campaign of disinformation and distortion, is not in the true spirit of inquiry, and this spirit must be something we encourage in our children as they learn about the world around them.
We would be negligent to mention that the FBI considers the Jewish Defence League to be a "right-wing terrorist group." Please see the 2001 FBI report at: http://www.fbi.gov/publications/terror/terror2000_2001.htm
It is disappointing that the Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation missed the opportunity to open up this debate by accepting these motions which would have provide their pupils the opportunity to see another side of a currently presented one-sided story.
Union rejects boycott of Israel
Omar El Akkad, with a report from Oliver Moore
Emotionally loaded Middle East politics made another brief -- albeit short-lived -- foray into the world of Canadian trade unions yesterday as a branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation voted down motions to boycott Israel and condemn it for its treatment of Palestinians.
Brought forward as a single motion by two Toronto-area teachers and split into two motions during debate last night, the issue sparked the wrath of several Jewish lobby groups.
The motion asked the union to support a May, 2006, motion by the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees which supported a boycott against Israel until it "meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194."
B'nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League had described an earlier motion as propaganda and said it could easily morph into racism. The teachers' union shot back that the lobby groups were engaging in what amounted to a bullying campaign aimed at stifling free speech.
The issue began late last year when Jason Kunin, an English teacher and Jewish activist, and Hyssam Hulays, a computer science teacher, brought forward a motion at a bargaining unit meeting.
The motion effectively asked the union to support, in principle, a May, 2006, motion by the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
The latter supported a boycott against Israel until it "meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194."
In response, teachers Arron Eisen and Eric Walker introduced another motion at the meeting, asking that Mr. Kunin and Mr. Hulays' motion be tabled until the union membership could hear from an expert on the Israeli point of view.
Mr. Kunin and Mr. Hulays returned this year with the new motion, which was split last night into two separate motions. Both were voted down, but Jewish groups had already shown their displeasure.
Board orders civics teacher at centre of Mideast dust-up out of the class
Glenn Wheeler, NOW
Kunin was sent home the very Thursday, January 18, that he and other teachers at a District 12 council meeting sought support for a resolution urging a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel because of its occupation of Palestinian land.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation has recently launched a grievance at the Toronto District School Board on behalf of teacher and Middle East activist Jason Kunin, NOW has learned.
A civics and English teacher at Vaughan Road Academy, Kunin was asked to leave the classroom for 17 days in January while the board investigated an undisclosed complaint.
Kunin was sent home the very Thursday, January 18, that he and other teachers at a District 12 council meeting sought support for a resolution urging a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel because of its occupation of Palestinian land. The motion failed.
Kunin, who is Jewish, declined to be interviewed for this story, and most of the key players refused to offer details because of confidentiality obligations.
However, Doug Jolliffe, president of OSSTF District 12, says board officials determined that Kunin had done nothing improper. "I certainly do not think he was treated fairly," says Jolliffe, who also says it's troubling that a teacher, for no reason other than his lawful activities in his union, would find himself under investigation. "We're very concerned."
Certainly, tempers prior to the January 18 vote were running very high. A report of the looming debate in the National Post mentioned Kunin's name, and B'nai Brith began a frenetic lobbying effort.
Jolliffe, who did not support the motion, issued a strong rebuke to B'nai Brith, accusing the organization of meddling in union affairs and trying to strangle free speech by urging OSSTF members not to participate in the resolution discussion.
The seconder of the resolution, Hayssam Hulays, a teacher of math and computer science and chair of the District 12 political action committee, says Kunin's experience will have a chilling effect on teachers interested in international questions. "This is one human rights issue that you are not allowed to talk about," he says.
Grant Bowers, a lawyer for the Toronto District School Board, would not speak specifically about Kunin's case but said that before the board investigates a teacher, it first has to consider whether the complaint is bona fide and not just a parent's reaction to something a teacher has said in the community.
Area trustee Howard Goodman said he received a number of calls about Kunin, but only one or two were from parents asking for an investigation of classroom activities."Free speech,'' he says, "has limits for teachers because of their special responsibility. We took action, so clearly there must have been something,'' he says.
Hulays says he heard that the board had taken exception to Kunin's use of the word "genocide'' in relation to the treatment of North American native people and worried about whether he had offered an opposing perspective.
Many teacher activists are also concerned about the political invasiveness of B'nai Brith. Just a few weeks ago, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association's Toronto secondary unit got the call. The local was preparing for the union's AGM March 9 to 12 at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel and had before it a boycott-Israel resolution.
A senior OECTA official confirms that B'nai Brith contacted the union. The calls, the official says, were of an inquiring nature, and overt pressure was not necessary because there was widespread unease about how such a resolution would be perceived. The motion failed.
Anita Bromberg of the B'nai Brith legal department sees nothing wrong with seeking support from teachers who share their point of view. "By alerting the community, we were facilitating the exercise of democracy," she says.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the resolutions saga is the anti-Semitic epithets thrown at sanctions proponents. Bromberg says her org doesn't use that label, but there is nevertheless a thin line. "Ask Jewish students what they feel walking through people screaming "apartheid,'" she says.
"And what if some of the chanting students are Jewish?" I ask.
Doesn't matter, she says. "You can hold views as a Jew that are anti-Semitic."
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