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Motion on antisemitism withdrawn at public school board meeting

'The people who frighten me as a Jewish parent are white supremacists and members of Christian far right who keep trying to impose their religious views on our secular school system,' said one parent opposed to the motion
FILE PHOTO - Waterloo Region District Board of Education.

A motion for Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) to adopt and recognize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as the board's operative definition was withdrawn at Monday's meeting.

The notice of motion was served at the Sept. 26 board meeting by trustee Mike Ramsay with support from trustee Cindy Watson to have the school board adopt the IHRA working definition in guiding WRDSB staff in the administration of its operational policies, including its human rights and equity policies.

Yesterday afternoon, Trustee Ramsay tweeted saying that it was with regret that he and Watson had to withdraw the motion.

“Since the notice of motion was served, there has been a concerted effort to discredit the IHRA definition of antisemitism by certain organizations and individuals, some of whom are promoting the very sort of antisemitism that the IHRA definition was designed to confront,” Ramsay said.  

“In consequence, local major established Jewish organizations, and other stakeholders have requested an opportunity to be heard before a final decision is made.”

But the withdrawal did not come without comment from eight delegates who were prepared to voice their opinions about the motion.

“It is a real danger for of all of us to even be having this discussion. And I sense that in this room tonight. Why are we even having this discussion?” asked Irene O’Toole, a delegate at last night’s meeting.

“It’s critical that we deal with this motion tonight. It is traumatizing for Jewish children, Palestinian children, and all of us in this room and beyond. This needs to be put to bed so we don’t have this discussion again. This is a huge threat, well beyond our school board.”

The IHRA is an international intergovernmental organization composed of government representatives from 35 member countries, including Canada.

The working definition states that "antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Another delegate, Justin Buhr said that the board already has specific policies about anti racism and discrimination that include antisemitism.

“If there are individual members of the board that are genuinely concerned about antisemitism, they should be working with the equity and inclusion team to address it, as they are the best equipped to take action in combating this hateful ideology,” Buhr said

“Antisemitism is absolutely a threat to the safety of students in our schools and those in our community, but the IHRA does not help address this threat and its activity harms students and those in our community.”

Another concerned parent, Lauren Weinberg, said she wanted to speak out about the issue as a Jewish parent with two children in public school.

“The people who frighten me as a Jewish parent are white supremacists and members of Christian far right who keep trying to impose their religious views on our secular school system,” Weinberg said.

O’Toole said that this amount of extremism, is concerning.

“I feel that the need to oppose it is actually right here in this room tonight. At the moment, I feel the tension in this room. We have had extremism in conversations from delegates which are very scary for me. I think that kind of extremism creates a polarization that none of us need,” O’Toole said.

“The IHRA motion, comes from a neoconservative fundamentalist white supremacist background. In actual fact, it is focused on shielding Israel from legitimate criticism of its human rights violations towards Palestine.”

O’Toole said that with rules and policies already in place within the school board to deal with antisemitism, everyone needs to take responsibility to make sure the rules are enforced equally across the board.

“We all need to take responsibility to speak out against this injustice,” she said.

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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