Toronto (September 24, 2021) – Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is demanding accountability from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) after a keynote speaker went on a disturbing anti-Israel tirade during a conference this week. This incident was brought to FSWC’s attention by numerous attendees who were traumatized by his remarks, which were recorded and shared with the organization.
Desmond Cole, a Canadian activist, was invited to speak in four learning sessions for some 600 senior TDSB educators and other staff members. Although he was supposed to be speaking about anti-Black racism, Cole went off-script to claim the TDSB was silencing Palestinian voices and to defend Javier Davila - a Student Equity Program Advisor who was recently reinstated to his position after distributing antisemitic and anti-Israel materials to TDSB staff - stating the materials Davila distributed were not antisemitic, glossing over the consensus of the Jewish community and complaints brought forward by its members.
During one of the sessions, Cole also accused Israel of “settler colonialism” and stated, “If people interpret ‘Free Palestine’ as being violent, it is because they are benefitting from Palestinians being unfree.” Cole repeatedly said the words “Free Palestine,” often a dog whistle for the destruction of Israel.
The Free Palestine Movement is rooted in a long history of antisemitism, violence against Jews and promoting the elimination of Israel.
FSWC Director of Policy Jaime Kirzner-Roberts issued the following statement:
“It is unbelievable that the TDSB provided a platform for Desmond Cole to go on an ill-informed and offensive rant this week not once, but twice. Cole used his platform to spread misinformation about Israel, completely erase the Jewish perspective on recent contentious issues and deny the Jewish experience of antisemitism. There has been an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents in the TDSB and its schools, and the remarks by Cole feed into the normalization of antisemitism in the education system. It’s time the TDSB be held accountable for permitting such expressions of exclusion and discrimination while failing to protect its Jewish staff members who have been traumatized repeatedly by the recent events.”
FSWC has reached out to the newly appointed TDSB Director of Education, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, to ensure there is accountability for the ongoing breaches of safe spaces for its Jewish staff members, once and for all. The organization has also reached out to the office of Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, sharing concerns about the recent incident and the growing number of antisemitic occurrences in Toronto schools as well as asking the Ministry of Education to hold the Board accountable in addressing this problem.
It has been reported to FSWC by a senior TDSB official that there has been an antisemitic incident occurring in a Toronto school every day since school started.
Earlier this summer, in partnership with the Ontario government, FSWC delivered antisemitism awareness training to educators, including many in the TDSB. In the face of growing antisemitism, FSWC is calling on the Ministry of Education to continue and expand its commitment to combatting Jew-hatred through educational programs.