By Alex Rose
Students and faculty at The Leo Baeck Day School’s South Campus in Toronto returned from the Thanksgiving long weekend to find pro-Palestinian slogans plastered on the school’s sign, the flagpole and a UJA Federation sign near the front entrance.
The slogans were written in marker and said, respectively, “Free Palestine,” “Long Live Palestine” and “Long Life to the Hamas,” according to a statement from B’nai Brith Canada. They were discovered by a school security guard and many students saw them when they arrived for class.
Eric Petersiel, Leo Baeck’s head of school, said in a statement that the school immediately contacted police, its security company and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Police are investigating, but say that, at the moment, there are no safety issues. The school will not be increasing its security measures as a result of the incident.
“We know that our neighbours stand with us against hate, which has absolutely no place in our community. We value the positive relationships we’ve forged with our neighbours over the years. We must remain vigilant to ensure the perpetrator is brought to justice,” Petersiel said in his statement.
He also made it clear that Leo Baeck would not be intimidated by the graffiti.
“This incident has only redoubled our commitment, as a Jewish International Baccalaureate school, to continue teaching our students to be proud of their Jewish identity and to remain open-minded, tolerant global citizens who think critically about the world,” the statement continued.
“As educators and as parents, we must remain committed to our core values – especially when we face challenges. We will be providing our Grade 5-8 students with an age-appropriate understanding of this incident and its context. Our school social worker will be available for support. Moments like these are unfortunate but real opportunities to talk about current issues.”
In a follow-up phone call, Petersiel said that police are taking the matter seriously and that, between the police and CIJA, the school is in good hands when it comes to evaluating and addressing these kinds of threats.
B’nai Brith heard about the graffiti from a number of concerned community members. In its statement on the incident, its CEO, Michael Mostyn, pointed out that the vandalism “targeted a Jewish school where Canadianchildren learn about Torah, the value of charity and community, and other important values and ethics.”
Daniel Koren, the manager of media relations and communications for B’nai Brith, echoed Mostyn’s statement. He said that as an institution that promotes Jewish education, Leo Baeck is in no way political, and it was especially concerning that the graffiti was targeting Canadian Jews in the name of anti-Israel activism.
Toronto police are asking anyone who may have information about the incident to call 13 Division at 416-808-1300 and refer to file No. 18-1862954.
Barbara Bank, the chair of CIJA, said in a statement that graffiti was found on a UJA Federation sign outside Beth Sholom synagogue, as well. She said that police are reviewing CCTV footage from the time of the incident.
Elsewhere in Toronto, stickers advocating for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement were found in two supermarkets: the Metro at Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road, and the No Frills in Centerpoint Mall. The stickers were placed on the price signs of Israeli products, telling customers not to buy them and to “boycott Israel until it respects international law.”
CIJA has already reached out to the affected stores.
“We have consistently found that store managers, when alerted to these stickers, take swift action to remove them. Retailers certainly have no interest in seeing their product displays tampered with in this way,” CIJA wrote in a statement on its Facebook page. “If you see something, say something – both to the store manager and to CIJA so we can follow up with the store and ensure the issue is fully resolved.”