Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Trustee Sheila Ward wants to ban a book she hasn't read

Toronto District School Board Trustee Sheila Ward (Toronto Centre) told the Jewish Tribune this week that she will "move heaven and earth to have The Shepherd’s Granddaughter taken off the school library shelves" in response to a demand by B'nai Brith Canada and parent Brian Henry that the book be removed from school reading lists. Upon a closer reading of her words it's evident that Ward is rushing to judgement to not only condemn a book she hasn't read but condemn also the professional organization of librarians that is promoting the book in its reading programme.

The Shepherd's Granddaughter was written by Toronto author and teacher-librarian Anne Laurel Carter According to the Toronto Star it "is currently being read by thousands of Grade 7 and 8 students across the province as part of the Ontario Library Association’s massive Forest of Reading program, meant to highlight the best examples of Canadian literature" 

Peggy Thomas of the Ontario Library Association describes the book as being of "literary quality; it is written for a group of students who are at that time exploring the world around them and grappling with ideas larger than themselves." The B'nai Brith however sees it as propaganda because its narrative is from the point of view of a Palestinian who has lost her land.

Ms Ward condemns the book in no uncertain terms. However, it's evident from her own statements that she hasn't read it. Ward is quoted by the Jewish Tribune saying "This book, on the basis of what Mr. Henry has sent to me, is so blatantly biased that it is intolerable," and "Provided Mr. Henry presented it correctly, and he’s given quite a number of examples, I’m extremely concerned and upset. It is completely unacceptable to have this kind of hatemongering and enormously biased, inaccurate portrayal of Israelis."

Ward's minor disclaimer does not prevent her from trusting her informant's information enough to condemn the book sight unseen, despite the fact that the respected Ontario Library Association has endorsed the book.

Ward goes further. Instead of reserving judgement until she's read the book herself or at least talking to the Ontario Library Association and finding out why they disagree with Henry, Ward, despite not having actually read the book, condemns the OLA saying "I’d like an investigation. Until I have some really hard answers, I’d like to suspend our involvement with the OLA.”

So let's recap. Sheila Ward has not read the book. However, on the basis of a complaint by a parent, Brian Henry, and B'nai Brith Canada she is willing to "move heaven and earth" to remove the book from TDSB libraries and suspend the TDSB's involvement with the Ontario Library Association.

Ward is a public official and a former school board chair. While, as a school trustee, she may be tempted to agree with every parent who comes to her with a complaint she has an obligation and a public official to actually investigate before coming to a conclusion. Instead, Ward has rushed to judgement based on hearing only one opinion and committed herself to not only removing the book from our schools but suspending the TDSB's association with the Ontario Library Association. Worse, she does so without having even read the book at issue and is willing to cut off the OLA which, presumably, actually has read the book and as a professional association of librarians has a certain expertise in assessing the quality and educational value of chidlren's literature.

Interestingly, the lead headline in the B'nai Brith published Jewish Tribune concerning this book is:  Could this book turn your child against Israel? Is B'nai Brith's real concern that this book, by presenting a narrative from the perspective of "the other" might lead to critical thinking in children? Now when I was growing up we were told that was what distinguished quality children's literature from the rest. If The Shepherd's Granddaughter truly was anti-Semitic the fear would not be that it might make Jewish children think differently about Israel. No, B'nai Brith recognizes that the book might actually do what education is supposed to do, treat children to think critically and question their assumptions. Evidently, critical thinking is discouraged when it comes to Israel and the last thing B'nai Brith wants Jewish children to do is to question the preconceptions and assumptions they might have about Israel and the Palestinians. The real issue therefore is not whether or not this book is propaganda but whether or not it interferes with the pro-Israel propaganda that have been fed to children, Jewish children in particular.

Ward is acting recklessly and engaging in shameless political pandering. Voters in her ward should remember this at the October election.

Ward can be contacted at

The entire School Board, plus director Chris Spence, can be reached at the following addresses:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

h/t Michelle

UPDATE:  The TDSB has rejected Henry's complaint.
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Thursday, 11 March 2010

Tim Uppal's anti-Israeli Apartheid Week motion has been defeated!

Finally, some politicians are starting to stand up to the attempts by Israel's supporters to limit discussion through intimidation.

This letter comes from MP Libby Davies:

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write and express your views about the motion proposed by a Conservative MP, about Israeli Apartheid Week. I have heard from many people on this issue.

The motion came forward on March 11th, and did not receive unanimous consent, and so was not approved by Parliament. A second motion from the Bloc Québécois also failed to receive unanimous consent.

The Conservative motion was designed to be divisive and to censure legitimate debate on the issue of Israel's policies as well as to specifically target activists who are engaged in debate and other activities on various campuses across the country.

I didn't support either motion, and whatever one thinks about the term "apartheid" in reference to Israel, I don't believe that Members of Parliament should have any role or influence in stifling open discussion and education on this issue. As someone who has visited the West Bank and Gaza twice (most recently in August of 2009), I know first-hand the impact and destruction caused by Israeli policies towards Palestinians.

Copies of the report from my trip can be found at:,%20August%207-14,%202009.pdf

I really appreciate that so many people have taken the time to support freedom of speech and the rights of the Palestinian people. I will continue to do the same.

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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Ignatieff and Israel

Which federal party leader said this about Israel back in 2002?

When I looked down at the West Bank, at the settlements like Crusader forts occupying the high ground, at the Israeli security cordon along the Jordan river closing off the Palestinian lands from Jordan, I knew I was not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control.
Could it be the same leader who now says:

On university campuses across the country this week, Israeli Apartheid Week will once again attempt to demonize and undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state. It is part of a global campaign of calls for divestment, boycotts and proclamations, and it should be condemned unequivocally and absolutely.
Apartheid is defined, in international law, as a crime against humanity. Israeli Apartheid Week is a deliberate attempt to portray the Jewish state as criminal.

Why, yes it is! Now to be fair to Iggy, a lot has happened in the intervening eight years. On the one hand, the "Crusader fort" like settlements that reminded the then public intellectual of apartheid-era Bantustans have grown in size, a wall has been built which not only surrounds the Palestinians of the West Bank but because of its fjord like route, actually cuts off many people in the West Bank from others in the West Bank and, oh yes, there was that war in Gaza. So can Iggy honestly say the situation that existed in 2002 that reminded him of apartheid no longer exists? No. What has changed is not the situation on the ground for Palestinians but the self-interest of Michael Ignatieff. As a Liberal leader Iggy feels the need to prove his pro-Israel credentials in light of his previous criticism of the regime. But don't worry, I'm sure that after Iggy has ended his adventure in electoral politics he will rediscover the plight of the Palestinians and wring his hands appropriately.

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