Canadian teacher fights suspension after Palestine speech

Schoolteacher Nadia Shoufani’s July address has become another test case of the Palestine exception to free speech.

Schools open again next Tuesday in Mississauga after the summer break.

But Nadia Shoufani does not know if she will be back in class with her students in the Southern Ontario city, just outside Toronto.

The elementary school teacher has been suspended for almost a month, as the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board investigates her over a speech supporting Palestinian rights that she gave at a rally in Toronto.

The rally on 2 July marked al-Quds Day, normally the last Friday of Ramadan, which many people observe as a day of solidarity with Palestinians.

Since then, Shoufani has been the target of a campaign by pro-Israel groups in Canada which seek to have her dismissed for allegedly supporting “terrorism.”

During her address, which can be seen on video, Shoufani defends the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and colonization.

She says she speaks on behalf of Palestine solidarity groups frustrated at the “silence towards what’s happening in occupied Palestine.”

She condemns extrajudicial executions by Israel, land theft by settlers, home demolitions and arrest raids.

Shoufani recalls the words of Ghassan Kanafani, the revered Palestinian writer who spoke about Palestine as a cause for all revolutionaries.

Kanafani, who was assassinated by an Israeli death squad in 1972, is a “martyr,” she states.

Kanafani was also a prominent member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Canada listed as a “terrorist” organization in 2003, more than 30 years after a car bomb planted by Israel’s Mossad spy agency blew him apart in Beirut, along with his teenage niece Lamis.

Canada, like Israel’s other close allies, follows Israel’s lead in designating virtually every Palestinian political party and resistance movement as “terrorist.”

“When they steal your land and demolish your house, put all sorts of discriminatory, racist laws to push you out, build an apartheid wall to separate you from your land and family, when they arrest you, kill your family, your friends, well what do you do?” Shoufani asks. “You have to have the right to resist. We have the right to fight back.”

In the video, Shoufani speaks about the right to resist as a principle, but does not specify what form it should take in Palestine. She urges people in Canada to raise awareness, to pressure governments to act against Israeli abuses, and to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

She calls for solidarity with Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, including Bilal Kayed, who recently ended a 71-day hunger strike against his detention without charge or trial.

“This is the least we could do here in Canada,” she states.

Israel lobby attacks

In another context, recognizing the right of a people under military occupation to resist would be uncontroversial, as would be honoring one of its writers whose books are now taught as classics in universities around the world.

But with predictable swiftness, Canada’s Israel lobby launched a full-scale assault on Shoufani.

“We are greatly concerned that an individual who espouses open support for terror and praises terrorist groups is teaching Canadian youth,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said.

“Anyone publicly supporting violence and terrorism is not fit to be an educator for our vulnerable youth,” Mostyn added.

A week or so following the rally, the school board launched an investigation into Shoufani after receiving complaints from sources including the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith Canada.

The Toronto police also confirmed it was investigating “comments made at the rally and there is more than one person involved.”

Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash told The Electronic Intifada last week that the investigation was ongoing, but would not comment on whether or not Shoufani was a target.

In early August, the school board suspended Shoufani. The board told the CBC that the complaints about her conduct had been referred for review to the Ontario College of Teachers, the province’s regulatory body for the profession.

In an email to The Electronic Intifada, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board spokesperson Bruce Campbell said that Shoufani “remains suspended with pay, pending investigation by the school board.”

Campbell added that “the board cannot speculate on a timeline for resolution of the matter or its details given that this is a personnel matter.”

The school board has refused to say if Shoufani was suspended for her actions.

Right to free speech

But the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), the trade union that is representing Shoufani in the investigation, is emphatic that she was not suspended for her speech.

“I want to clarify that Ms. Shoufani has not been suspended due to her personal or professional conduct, but as a result of a perceived lack of compliance with the board’s investigation,” OECTA president Ann Hawkins said in an email to The Electronic Intifada. “Our Association has been working with Ms. Shoufani throughout the investigation, and I can assure you that she has complied with the board’s requests and provided all information within the prescribed timeframes.”

Hawkins also affirmed that teachers have the same free speech rights as anyone else: “So long as we are acting within the law, all teachers are entitled to our personal political views. We are very disappointed that Ms. Shoufani’s professional integrity has been publicly called into question without due process having occurred.”


Activists, academics and free speech advocates are also rallying around Shoufani.

More than 1,200 people have signed an open letter condemning the “smears and libelous accusations” against Shoufani by pro-Israel groups, and calling for her reinstatement.

And earlier this month, several academics supporting Shoufani’s right to speak out held a press conference at Queen’s Park, the seat of the Ontario provincial legislature in Toronto.

One of those who spoke was Atif Kubursi, emeritus professor of economics at McMaster University.

He told The Electronic Intifada that the press conference aimed to send a message that Nadia Shoufani is “not standing alone,” and that her case is not only about her, but “about free speech in Canada.”

“The Zionist groups have been extremely vindictive in trying to take every word, every position that any Canadian Arab or that supporters of Palestinian rights say as anti-Semitic or a promotion of terror,” Kubursi said.

“What Nadia Shoufani said on al-Quds Day was very simple, which is that Palestinians have a legitimate right, given by the UN and international law, to resist the occupiers.”

“The bigger picture,” Kubursi added, is that Canada’s pro-Israel groups “don’t want anyone to stand for Palestine or celebrate Jerusalem or stand against the brutal occupation.”

No change under Liberals

“Nadia Shoufani has the right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to voice her political opinions, and she exercised that right during a protest in Toronto this summer,” Tyler Levitan, campaigns coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices, told The Electronic Intifada. “Resisting against an illegal and seemingly permanent military occupation is a right enshrined under international law.”

Levitan added that “Shoufani is being targeted in an attempt to silence her political views, and to set an example in order to intimidate others into silence.”

“There has been a lengthy war on free speech in Canada for those who advocate for the human rights of Palestinians,” Levitan said, citing an effort to legislate against BDS in Ontario that was resoundingly defeated in the province’s legislature in May.

He also pointed to the repressive record of the government of former federal Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Levitan said human rights advocates had hoped such attacks would end after the Conservatives lost power last year, “but it has sadly continued under the Liberal government, with the government voting for a motion with the Conservatives earlier this year to condemn individual Canadians and organizations that promote BDS.”

Levitan, whose group has chapters across Canada, also challenged the claim of the organizations attacking Shoufani to speak for the country’s Jewish community.

“These organizations have never been granted any democratic mandate to speak on behalf of such a politically and religiously diverse community,” Levitan said. “We are strongly opposed to Israel lobby groups who have conflated being Jewish with unconditionally supporting Israel’s actions.”

Shoufani’s situation is yet another test case in what has been called the Palestine exception to free speech.

But what is at stake as well is an individual’s life and livelihood, turned upside down simply for daring to speak openly about the Palestinian struggle.

“Silence is not an option,” Shoufani said in her rally speech, “and it should never be an option.”

Note: Since initial publication, this article has been updated with comments from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.




This BS should not be happening in Canada. Foreign governments, especially one as racist as Israel should have no say in anything Canadian.
What would South Africa be without the right to speak against their apartheid?


I absolutely support everything Dona has said against Canada & behaviour's of Israel government


I would like to know how to address a communication to the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board committee making the decision about Shoufani. Beside an open letter and a press conference, is there a way to address specific comments to the specific group making the decision within the school administration? Do you know?

Ali Abunimah's picture

David, I do not know other than to go to their website and find out who the relevant officials are. As noted in the article, they did not respond to my inquiries, though they undoubtedly received them.

Ali Abunimah's picture

They did eventually respond, the day after the article was published. The article has been updated to include their reply.


I would have thought better of Canada, especially with the overwhelming election of the Liberal Party's Justine Trudeau. I suppose it just shows the savage power of the Israeli lobby even reaching down into an elementary school teacher's personal opinions. She is entitled to have personal opinions and to express them when outside the classroom which is what she did. Toronto should be ashamed of itself for even entertaining this absurd action by the Israeli lobby. It disgusts all decent people.


The punishment for free speech is jail? AIPAC is too powerful because it is granted this power! Why is Israel allowed free speech but Canadian citizens are not! This sort of repression of Canadians is very similar to the repression shown to dissidents around the world! Israel is the violent, illegal entity not the Palestinians who suffer bombings with phosphorous bombs, tear gas, illegal imprisonment, loss of their homes, land, olive groves, and constant killings! What a travesty of justice.


I am ashamed of the Canadian government regarding the Israeli lobby's power in denigrating anything Palestinian. I have been writing to the minister of foreign affairs to no avail . I have to wonder what grip they have on our governing body , to be so blind to criminality in the Middle East . No sunny ways for us that seek justice and human rights ,Justin .


If a society is prepared to gag someone like Shoufani, who in the name of human rights feels she has to speak out, then it doesn't bode well for that society. "No man is an island".


This is called "freedom of speech." Thousands of people in the Middle East are being slaughtered so that the US, Israel and other Western "powers" can claim they are fighting for this "freedom."

So, this teacher better not open her mouth again! We wouldn't want to have to "take her out" so that we can continue to have FREEDOM OF SPEECH!
After all, our pals in Israel and Bnai Brith have told us just what we have to do to keep from being called "antiSemitic" and we know we'd better follow our marching orders from Jerusalem! Heil Bibi! We certainly wouldn't want let those uppity Palestinians think they have a case!
They might even get to thinking they're targets of genocide. Lord knows we've had enough trouble with the First Nations here because of that!
People only have human rights if WE say they have human rights! Get it?
[NOTE: there is no sarcasm font on this computer.]


It is a truly sad commentary on the state of Canadian politics that virtually every leader of Canadian parties in Parliament has condemned the BDS movement on the grounds that it is anti-Semetic. Even Green Party leader Elizabeth May has gone against her own party that overwhelmingly endorsed BDS.

None of these political leaders have ever criticized Israel for it's apartheid policies, terrorist acts or their settlements in occupied territory which is a war crime according to the Geneva Convention. And, just like in America, Israel's nuclear stockpiles are a taboo topic for any Canadian politician.

Israel, as America's surrogate in the Mid-East, and the recepient of $3 billion annually in military aid, is the epicentre for most of the violence in that region for the past half century. As it stands, the Green Party is the only one in Canada that seems to recognize the evil that Israel represents.

Meanwhile, the corporate friendly Liberal government of Justin "Mr. Selfie" Trudeau continues the close relationship with Israel that so embarrassed CanadIans when Harper was in power. And to make matters worse, the Trudeau government contines to sell military equipment to America's other Mid-East surrogate, Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record is even worse than Israel. Trudeau's lame excuse for this is that Canada's reputation would be damaged if we didn't honour a commitment made by a previous government.

The shame of it is that the Liberals are more worried about their reputation with arms dealers than they are with those who want peace and human rights.


I think that a detailed timeline of decades Israeli terror attracts and instigations that cause retaliation by Palestinians should be published and posted via website to expose Israeli systematic ethnic cleansing. Then the Canadian people should demand that their government not pay attention to to groups that prohibit discussion. Anyone that does not wish to raise up against another person in an act of violence has the right to speak against those that do.


This case saddens me immensely as an educator. I am teaching in a school with many Arab students who really relate to this struggle or are familiar with it. I always present both views in an effort to be 'just' but clearly students side with the Palestinians. At first I thought I'm not going to touch this topic again and now I'm more likely to look at this case in point. Is there anyway we can show our support for Nadia that'd be more effective?


Being a Catholic myself, I'm ashamed and embarassed that Canadian Catholics can side with a state such as Israel which practices ethnic cleansing and preaches racial supremacy through the twisted Zionist heresy. Perhaps those Catholics should be reminded that Israel is building a 5-metre-high wall over a Christian Silesian monastery's land and also over the land of 58 Christian olive farmers. Where is the moral compass of these people? Sadly, Zionists do not respond to reason as the JewsAgainstZionism have found out. They've seen their religion hijacked by fanatics as bad as those Salafist Islamists. I know that many people dislike Donald Trump but he hasn't needed one cent of Jewish bankers money to finance his campaign. He's alluded to 'getting our country back' and repivoting it on the Christian traditions it was founded on. Aid to Israel won't be so forthcoming either. Perhaps the Canadian Catholics should do a reality check and see who their friends (and enemies) really are.


I'm an American and a NYer and I can assure you that Christian characteristics are totally absent in Donald Trump.


Nothing will change under Trudeau. His disgust towards BDS and Palestinian rights is appalling.


The Canadian media keeps a blanket over the settlers movement and attacks anyone who criticizes. It remains relatively quiet about the summary execution of Palestinian children.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.