Israeli military vehicles maneuver in Gaza as seen from Israel Jan. 12, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. OSV News photo/Tyrone Siu, Reuters

Anti-Israel tirade sparks board apology

By 
  • June 18, 2024

The York Catholic District School Board has apologized after one of its schools hosted a pro-Palestinian guest speaker who demonized Israel for how it is carrying out operations during the current Mideast conflict.

St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School in Richmond Hill, Ont., hosted Dr. Yasser Khan at an assembly May 21 in which he is alleged to have launched an anti-Israel harangue to students, condemning Israel for Its "genocide" against Palestinians, according to one student.  

“On May 21, 2024, a guest speaker presented to Grade 11 and 12 students of St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School in Richmond Hill, Ont. Unfortunately, the presentation’s content was inappropriate for a Catholic school setting, and parents were not informed of it in advance. The York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) deeply regrets these errors and apologizes to all affected,” the board said in a statement to The Catholic Register. 

In an anonymous letter written to the board and publicized on social media by the Jewish Educators & Families Association of Canada (JEFA), complaints from concerned parents and students were filed regarding Khan's speech, with first-hand accounts of what took place being shared. 

“At the beginning of the assembly, Dino Sorrentino, who is on the Chaplaincy Team/Department Head of Religion at the school, introduced the host speaker, Dr. Yasser Khan. The doctor discussed the current conflict in the Middle East,” the letter read. “When a high school student from St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School spoke to their parents about the assembly, one of the initial remarks they made was, children were shown without eyes, hands and legs, and the surgeon said this is what Israel does."

When asked to write down what took place at the assembly, the student claims the doctor “presented a distinctly biased pro-Palestinian viewpoint,” suggesting that the assembly was aimed at influencing the students, the letter says. He elaborated by saying that, initially, “the speaker discussed the conflict's history, statements for principles like ‘equality in humanity' and 'justice for all.’ However, he subsequently began making antisemitism and anti-Israel remarks.” 

What followed were graphic images of severely wounded and mutilated children presented to the estimated 300 students in attendance. The letter went on to say that the student in question made a list of things they remembered the surgeon saying throughout the presentation, which included "Israel is the top-hated country in the world, this isn't a war, it is a genocide against Palestinian people, Israel is targeting these children, doctors and nurses in Gaza."

“When these children grow up, how do you expect them to not hate Israel?" Khan is alleged to have said.

The student recounted that no information about the assembly was posted on the school’s website, calendar or social media and students were not informed about its content beforehand. 

“They didn't tell us what the assembly was about; when we came, it just said 'surgeon' on the screen, so you thought it was going to be about careers,” the  student said in the letter. 

Due to the graphic images and message conveyed, the board confirmed that communication was sent to the families of students in attendance after the fact and that a psychologist, a social worker and the local superintendent of education visited the school to meet with students who wanted to discuss the presentation.

The board's statement went on to say that the speaker will not return to YCDSB schools and that the board is strengthening its procedures to ensure guest presentations are properly vetted and that parents are informed before guest speakers visit a school.

The issue sparked an online editorial by Pe'er Krut, a former student at St. Theresa of Lisieux, that was shared with and published in the National Post. Krut said she was prompted to share her opinion surrounding the incidents and others like it upon seeing the anonymous letter herself through the JEFA’s newsletter and social media. 

Jewish herself, Krut’s article starts by asking: “With shots fired at two Canadian Jewish schools in late May, and an anti-Israel tirade waged by a guest speaker reported at a Catholic school, where should Jewish students turn? Where are we safe?” 

The full letter from the parents and students can be viewed at https://x.com/JEFA_Canada/status/1796576807493529836.   

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