In George Orwell’s dystopian allegory, Animal Farm, the pigs assume governance of a farm the animals have seized from their oppressive human owner. Not content with contingent power, the pigs appropriate the farm dogs’ newborn puppies. Trained in secret, knowing no other way of life, the puppies grow up to be fearsome, loyal guard dogs. From then on, the pigs’ power to dictate “politically correct” thinking amongst the animals is absolute.
Last year, a February session of Israel Apartheid Week at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) campus of the University of Ontario featured the founding conference of High Schools Against Israeli Apartheid (HAIA), sponsored by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA). Appended to advertisements for the event were the words: “Note: this conference is for high school students only.”
The organizers—not themselves high school students, but the “pigs” in this neo-Orwellian story—only allowed “puppies”—high school students with identifying student cards—to attend a five-hour session of anti-Israel propaganda. No teachers, parents or media were permitted to attend, so we really have no idea of what went down there.
The Student School (TSS) is an alternative high school in downtown Toronto with a specialty in “social issues.” Its 185 students and eight staff are a tight-knit group. Decisions about which issues will be promoted are taken in weekly council meetings, where students and faculty are equally represented.
TTS welcomed CAIA recruiters to its classrooms two years ago. Under its aegis, HAIA took official form in 2008 and the school, guided by university activists, became a hotbed of political agitation. Last year, a newly arrived Israeli student at TTS felt too frightened by the hostile atmospherics to remain at the school.
Thankfully, an investigation by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is underway. According to Trustee James Pasternak, “Spreading this insidious anti-Israel ideology by recruiting teenagers in public schools is repugnant. We will use every legal means possible to stop intolerance in public schools.”
The TDSB might begin by explaining the role of an educational institution to TTS administrator John Morton, who is fiercely proud of his school’s partisan involvement with HAIA. Morton recently defended the school’s promotion of anti-Israel propaganda and affirmed his determination to flout any attempts to curtail their activism: “We’re holding our own, and have relayed to the board (through the principal) that we will continue our social justice activities on this and other issues.”
I left three messages for John Morton at TSS, but received no response. If he had granted me an interview, I would have asked him if—since his students have watched the incendiary film, Occupation 101, standard Palestinian-friendly fare—he would be willing to have his students watch law professor and pro-Israel polemicist Alan Dershowitz’s excellent new film, The Case for Israel, which will have its official Canadian premiere in Ottawa on April 13.
I would have suggested that his students might benefit from the mind-expanding exercise of seeing—here’s an apparently radical concept—both sides of the story, and then engaging in debate.
I would have warned him that Dershowitz persuades according to classically liberal precepts of argumentation—using reason, not emotion; history, not sentimental “narratives;” civility, not aggression; to argue Israel’s case. I fear that my suggestion would have fallen on deaf ears.
TTS is committing an intellectual crime against its students. As Stefan Braun, civil liberties lawyer and hate/censorship expert put it in an interview: “We’re dealing with a captive audience of impressionable school children. Those pushing HAIA are not interested in promoting critical independent thinking but in shutting it down. Preaching is not teaching. No one has the right to turn our schools into safe havens for indoctrination …. To speak out against HAIA is not censorship. It is to uphold freedom of speech against those who would smother it in its infancy.”
Just so. George Orwell said it with puppies and pigs, but the message was the same: HAIA, whose reach is extending into other high schools as I write, is dangerous to democracy and must be stopped.