Toronto school board supports book that ‘demonizes Israelis’

TORONTO (JTA) – Canada’s largest school board has expressed support for a novel that portrays Israelis soldiers and Jewish settlers negatively.

The book at issue is "The Shepherd’s Granddaughter,"a 2008 novel for young adults by Canadian author Anne Laurel Carter, who once worked on an Israeli kibbutz. The book tells the tale of Amani, a Palestinian girl living in the West Bank who wants to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and become a shepherd. She encounters violent Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers, who poison some of Amani’s sheep, bulldoze her house, shoot and kill her dog, prevent her family from harvesting their olives, and beat and jail her father and uncle.

In a recent letter to a parent who complained about "The Shepherd’s Granddaughter," the Toronto District School Board’s director of education says the book "has the potential to engage our Grade 7 and 8 students… in understanding the complex issues of their world." This past spring, the board ruled that the book meets standards for dealing with "controversial and sensitive issues," meaning it is subject only to extra guidelines.

In his complaint to the board, Toronto parent Brian Henry said he did not want the book banned, "but our teacher-librarians should not be encouraging our children to read a biased, one-sided and prejudicial account of such a complex and sensitive issue."

The board’s expression of support means the volume will remain in Toronto’s 130 or so school libraries. Henry can still appeal to the board of trustees to overturn the decision.

Toronto board trustee James Pasternak told JTA he believes the book "demonizes Israelis and fails to talk about all the positive things that are taking place among diverse groups in the Middle East." The book "has no place in our schools."

Pasternak is encouraging Henry to appeal, and said he believes that among the 22 board trustees, "we’ll have enough votes to overturn the decision."

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