By Yves Engler
On Tuesday thousands will gather to celebrate the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. Organizers of Montréal’s annual Israel Day rally claim it is the largest event of its kind in the country.
A significant proportion of the crowd will come from the city’s 15 Jewish day schools, which receive most of their funds from the public purse. Many of the kids bused downtown will carry Israeli flags and their faces will be painted in its colors. At the 2014 Israel Day rally a 12-year-old Herzliah student, Jon Frajman, told the Montréal Gazette, “if we didn’t support Israel, we wouldn’t have a place to call home.”
(A few years ago I witnessed a similar type of child abuse at an antiabortion protest in Ottawa packed with Catholic school students.)
Herding students to a weekday rally is a visible form of activism, but it’s a small part of these schools’ crusading for Israel. A recent Canadian Jewish News cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”
Head of Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, Lori Binder told CJN that Israel education is taught from junior kindergarten to graduation. But, “the crescendo I guess, is a full-year course for all our Grade 12 students in a course called Israel advocacy.”
Gray Academy’s Israel advocacy course was set up eight years ago. Recently, the Combined Jewish Appeal Israel Engagement Initiative developed a program for Grade 10 students at Montréal schools called Israel Update and Vancouver’s King David High School organizes an annual trip to Israel for Grade 8 students.
One of the five “Faces of Success” in a Federation CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Moore is quoted stating: “My experience attending Jewish high school imprinted me with a Zionist ethic and a profound appreciation for Israel’s importance. It troubles me that Israel is under constant political threat and that its legitimacy is questioned. What I find especially disturbing is that the language of human rights has been distorted to dispute its right to exist. That is why I’ve decided to go to Israel and examine this issue in depth, and when I return to Canada, to contribute to Israel advocacy.”
Day schools aren’t the only institutional setting in which the young are taught to support Israeli violence and expansionism. Some Jewish Community Centres and summer camps promote Zionism to kids.
The Jewish National Fund has long tried to convince young minds of its colonial worldview. The registered Canadian “charity” offers various youth outreach initiatives to help build the “bond between the Jewish people and their land.” The JNF has produced puzzles and board games as well as organizing kids dances and a Youth Summer experience program. According to JNF Canada’s Education Department, the group “educates thousands of young people in Israel and abroad, helping them forge an everlasting bond with the Land of Israel.”
An explicitly racist institution, the JNF promotes an expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael”. The mainstay of their youth outreach, JNF Blue Boxes’ include a map that encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank. Over the last century millions of Blue Boxes have been distributed around the world as part of “educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.”
The best way to reverse Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession is to educate and mobilize the broad public about an issue removed from most people’s daily lives. But, there’s also a need to challenge Israeli nationalist opinion within the Jewish community. One way to do so is by criticizing the indoctrination of children. One means might be to respectfully picket JNF events targeted at kids or perhaps by plastering posters about Israeli violence and expansionism around Jewish schools.
While pro-Israel groups would likely denounce such efforts as “anti-Semitic”, children at these institutions deserve to hear an alternative, universalist, anti-racist perspective. They need to know that not all Jews, Montrealers, Torontonians, Canadians, etc. support the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. They need to learn to think for themselves, instead of blindly accepting the Israeli nationalist propaganda aimed their way.
– Yves Engler is author of Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: the truth may hurt. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.