“We have swastika graffiti and hate words in our schools almost every week,” says Shari Schwartz-Maltz, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board and chair of the board’s Jewish heritage committee.
Last week was no exception: Students at a North York school fashioned swastikas out of plastic blocks in the classroom. This incident followed a similar incident in December in which students gave the Nazi salute in front of their peers.
This week was no exception either: On Tuesday, parents at another North York school were told a teacher had been assigned to stay home after allegedly making a popular classroom comparison among the anti-vaxxers, between the vaccination mandates and the yellow Stars of David forced on the clothes of Jews before and during the Holocaust.
As a Jew, which of the three incidents do you think scared me the most? It was not the display of the swastika block or the “Heil Hitler”. If true, it is the teacher who has diminished the murder of six million Jews. It’s the possibility that the insidious breed of anti-Semitism woven into the anti-vaccine and other conspiratorial movements has surfaced in a Toronto classroom.
I am not minimizing the ugliness or seriousness of the swastikas scrawled on the walls. Children who draw them or build them from blocks should be made to understand in the harshest possible terms what they have done and who they have hurt. Often they don’t know. According to Schwartz-Maltz, “when you dig deep, there’s almost always a lack of knowledge.”
In other words, children who draw Nazi symbols tend to have little or no knowledge of what they are drawing. But most probably want to know. According to a recent survey of North American teenagers by the Holocaust education charity Liberation75, 92% of Ontario students said they wanted to know more about the Holocaust.
These students will be well served by the Ministry of Education’s new partnership with Jewish groups to bring Holocaust education into Ontario classrooms before high school. (The Holocaust does not officially appear in the Ontario curriculum until Grade 10.)
According to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, the ministry recently “announced a partnership with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs to increase Holocaust education for all students. , especially our youngest learners, and to develop resources and training to combat anti-Semitism in Ontario schools.
If you’re of the opinion that sex education should start before high school to take into account that kids see and hear things online today that previous generations didn’t, then the same logic should apply. education on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and media literacy.
Students are spending an unprecedented amount of time in front of screens consuming gaming and social media content that is sometimes replete with anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracies about Jewish power. Often this hatred is not masked by a swastika but rather by a smirk. A frog meme. An affable YouTube personality. A seemingly innocent, almost admiring question about why Jews are so few in number and yet so “influential.”
Which brings me back to the alleged incident involving the TDSB teacher. It’s easy to explain to a child why drawing a swastika is a mistake. It’s harder to explain to a child why it’s wrong to compare vaccination mandates to the yellow star, yet it’s arguably the mark of anti-Semitism they’re most likely to encounter today. , online and in popular discourse.
Yes, I know that a Nazi flag along with other hateful symbols have been spotted at anti-vaccine protests in Ottawa. Much attention has been paid to this flag as it should have been. But this is where modern hate gets tricky. Importantly, many protesters in the convoy themselves immediately denounced the swastika flag as proof of their virtue, despite their own tendencies to post anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online, don yellow stars and condone the presence of full-fledged fanatics.
Listen to their voice notes or read their posts on the social media platforms that will always have them and their position is clear: they don’t like swastikas, but they hate “globalists”. They don’t like Nazis, but right-wing activist Pat King (who posted a video denouncing the “depopulation” of the white race) is misunderstood. The swastikas are out. Posters listing the names of all the Jews who work at the Centers for Disease Control are there.
Do you understand my drift?
It is entirely possible that the teacher who made the crude comparison between a reasonable public health measure and the Jewish genocide is simply misinformed, unbiased. But if the incident happened, the teacher most likely echoed that comparison not at a neo-Nazi rally, but on a glossy Instagram page.
That’s why I hope the ministry’s recently announced Holocaust education initiative covers much more than the Holocaust itself: for example, how white supremacists ditched the swastika for veiled expressions. more acceptable to the average person – student and teacher. It looks like it will. According to the ministry, “resources for parents will also be developed on how anti-Semitism manifests itself on social media and online games.”
Good. As ugly as it is, a swastika on a school wall can be erased. Subtle things are harder to erase.