TDSB trustees vote to adopt 'anti-Palestinian racism' term

Trustees on the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are set to vote on whether to update its Combating Hate and Racism Student Learning Strategy to include the term 'anti-Palestinian racism' after Palestinian and Jewish community members pushed for the board to name and recognize the discrimination at its schools. (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)
  • Update: In the early morning hours on June 20, Toronto District School Board trustees voted 15-7 to adopt the report detailed in the story below. 

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is set to consider a report that recommends adding the term "anti-Palestinian racism" to its learning strategy Wednesday after trustees voted in favour of carrying the report during a special meeting a day earlier.

The report argues the board should include the term to address address anti-Palestinian racism in its Combating Hate and Racism Student Learning Strategy in response to student and community voices advocating for the update.

The board's learning strategy already addresses antisemitism and Islamophobia. If the board accepts the updates in the report Wednesday, a new working group will be created to form a strategy addressing anti-Palestinian racism and discrimination in schools and introduce a "professional learning series" to understand anti-Palestinian racism in addition to Muslim identities and Islamophobia, according to the report.

Trustees voted Tuesday 5-3 in favour of adopting the term, drawing criticism from some, while the board's chair on defended the move, saying it aims to make sure all students feel safe at its schools.

As trustees voted, hundreds of members of the Jewish community rallied outside a meeting of the TDSB's Program and School Services Committee, saying the board is adopting a divisive concept that could lead to more antisemitism in schools.

Earlier in Tuesday's meeting, a motion brought forward by TDSB Chair Rachel Chernos Lin to have the report sent back to staff for a second look was not carried in a 4-4 vote. The motion called for the report to be re-envisioned "in a manner that … is consistent with the belonging pillar of the multi-year strategic plan to affirm and respect student identities."

Lack of definition causing fear, chair says

Chernos Lin, who later voted in favour of sending the report to the board, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that one challenge with adopting the term is that it's not clearly defined.

"[The] lack of a definition has caused fear among some community members, particularly Jewish community members," Chernos Lin said ahead of Wednesday's board meeting.

The TDSB's move to consider the report come as the ongoing conflict in Gaza continues to create tensions in the city. Toronto police say they've seen more than 1,000 hate-related incidents since Oct. 7, many of which targeted the city's Jewish and Muslim communities.

After the vote carried Tuesday, attendees at the meeting began to yell "shame" inside the meeting room. The meeting was called into a recess, before the committee moved on to other agenda items.

Asked about the reaction to the vote, Chernos Lin said community members wanted to ensure that if there's an incident of hate or racism that "we're taking that seriously.

"We want every kid who walks through the doors in our school to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of care, sense of comfort in who they are, that they can be who they are and that they feel accepted," Chernos Lin said.

"And that was clear from all trustees, regardless of how they voted."

LISTEN | TDSB chair comments on criticism following Tuesday vote: 

A 'historic moment': Palestinian advocacy group

In a statement issued Tuesday, Toronto Palestinian Families — a group advocating for Palestinian children's safety and right to express their identity and lived experiences at TDSB schools — welcomed the vote in favour of adopting the term.

"This is a historic moment for Palestinian students and their families, as their struggles against discrimination are being formally recognized and addressed in the Combating Hate and Racism strategy," the group said.

"It is a key addition needed to ensure full dismantling of systemic racism across our schools."

The group said the push for the board to receive the report was the result of Palestinian and Jewish community members rallying together to advocate for the board to recognize anti-Palestinian discrimination over the past four meetings.

Group says report fails to address antisemitism

One of the groups opposed to the move, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said the report fails to address antisemitism at a time when there is a "significant rise of antisemitic and anti-Israeli incidents and hostility in our public schools, and throughout the community," urging trustees to reject adopting the report.

"It also adopts the narrative of 'anti-Palestinian racism,' which seeks to erase core aspects of Jewish identity and history, and redefine what constitutes antisemitism," the Wednesday statement said.

"It should prioritize addressing antisemitism and discrimination against Jews and Israeli Canadians, while avoiding the unnecessary politicization of our students, staff, and faculty due to imported international conflicts," it said.

Hundreds of people rallied outside of the Toronto District School Board Tuesday during a Program and School Services Committee meeting that was voting on adopting the term 'anti-Palestinian racism' within the school board.
Hundreds of people rallied outside of the Toronto District School Board Tuesday during a Program and School Services Committee meeting that was voting on adopting the term 'anti-Palestinian racism' within the school board.

Hundreds of people rallied outside of the Toronto District School Board Tuesday during a Program and School Services Committee meeting that was voting on adopting the term 'anti-Palestinian racism' within the school board. (CBC)

Tamara Gottlieb, founder of Jewish Educators and Families Association, said the group was denied the opportunity to speak at Tuesday's meeting.

Asked about why the committee did not allow delegates to speak Tuesday, Chernos Lin said the meeting was a continuation of its first meeting on June 5.

"When we have a continuation of a meeting, we don't have new delegations. But I do hear that concern and I know that was something that people feel very strongly about," she said.

In the meeting June 5, several delegates from Independent Jewish voices, Jewish Faculty Network along with Palestinian and Jewish families, expressed to trustees that anti-Palestinian racism across TDSB schools must be named and addressed, urging the committee to include the term.

Trustees could vote on adopting the term as early as Wednesday evening. If the report is carried, it will be implemented for the next school year.