TORONTO, Canada – A Toronto-area school board and Toronto city police are investigating an elementary school teacher after pro-Israel lobby groups complained about comments she made during a rally in solidarity with Palestinians.
The teacher, Nadia Shoufani, addressed a downtown Toronto rally on 2 July, marking al-Quds Day, an annual event held around the world to support Palestinian rights and to protest Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“Silence in situations of oppression and injustices is a crime against humanity,” Shoufani said in her speech at the rally, in which she condemned the Israeli occupation and Israel’s policies of home demolitions, land confiscation and arrests of Palestinians.
Shoufani also quoted Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, an important figure in the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who was assassinated by Israeli Mossad agents in a car bombing in Beirut in 1972.
“We say no, no, no to the occupation. We are here to tell the world that Palestinians are not alone,” Shoufani said:
Pro-Israel lobby involvement
On its website, pro-Israel group Bnai Brith Canada accused Shoufani of “glorifying terrorists” in her speech.
“We are greatly concerned that an individual who espouses open support for terror and praises terrorist groups is teaching Canadian youth,” the group’s CEO, Michael Mostyn, said ina statement.
The group also accused her of “calling for violence against Israelis” by saying that Palestinians had a right to resist the Israeli occupation and its policies.
The Dufferin-Peel District Catholic School Board told Middle East Eye it is investigating Shoufani after the speech was brought to its attention by various sources, including Bnai Brith Canada and another pro-Israel group, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Shoufani teaches at an elementary school in Mississauga, a large suburb of Toronto, school board spokesperson Bruce Campbell said in an email. “We are actively investigating the issue brought to our attention,” Campbell said.
“In order to conduct a comprehensive investigation we are unable to place a definitive timeline on determining the results of an investigation at this point. However, given the serious nature of the issue, we would look to reach a resolution as quickly as possible,” he said.
Police launch investigation
Tyler Levitan, campaigns coordinator at Independent Jewish Voices-Canada, a group that supports Palestinian rights, said organisations like Bnai Brith Canada and Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal “are shills for Israel”.
“Ms Shoufani was speaking passionately in support of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves against an occupying power,” Levitan told MEE in an email.
“Under international law, those living under military occupation and a system of colonialism have the absolute right to resist. Ms Shoufani spoke as a defender of the rights of an occupied and besieged people to resist an obscenely violent and criminal military occupation over their lands.”
Meanwhile, Caroline de Kloet, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Police Service, told MEE on Thursday that a complaint was filed with police on 6 July about “comments made at a rally”.
De Kloet would not disclose which specific comments were subject to the complaint, or which and how many individuals were under investigation. She also would not disclose who filed the complaint.
“I can’t tell you who filed the report or what’s being looked into, or any of the specifics,” she said, “But right now there is a report on file and it’s being looked at.”
Shoufani could not immediately be reached for comment.
‘Put a chill’ on organizing
Recently, pro-Israel lobby groups in Canada have launched several campaigns targeting groups and individuals supporting Palestinian rights.
Bnai Brith Canada lauded a parliamentary motion passed earlier this year condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to hold Israel accountable under international law.
In March, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs accused Canadian law professor Michael Lynk of demonstrating a pro-Palestinian bias and of being involved in “anti-Israel advocacy”. Theaccusations came after Lynk was appointed as the new Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Pro-Israel groups have also urged Canada to maintain funding cuts on the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
They are also pressuring the Green Party of Canada to dismiss two motions, set to be debated at a party convention in August, that would strip the Jewish National Fund of its charitable status and endorse BDS.
“I know from past experience that Bnai Brith would be using every means possible to try to shut down the al-Quds rally,” said Ken Stone, treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War and another speaker at the al-Quds Day rally in Toronto this year.
Stone told MEE that Bnai Brith Canada has taken the comments made at the rally out of context and distorted them in an effort to shut down the annual event and silence Canadian supporters of Palestinian rights.
“What they’re trying to do is … put a chill on people like Nadia Shoufani,” he said.
“[And] put a chill on people who might be tempted to get up at an al-Quds rally and declare their support for the Palestinian cause.”
This article was originally appeared on Mid East Eye.