CANADA

One teacher’s prejudice

KATHRYN HARLEY April 27 1987
CANADA

One teacher’s prejudice

KATHRYN HARLEY April 27 1987

One teacher’s prejudice

CANADA

In April, 1978, retired chemistry professor Julius Israeli picked up a softcover booklet entitled Web of Deceit at a bookstore in his hometown of Newcastle, N.B. Israeli, a Romanian-born Jew who lost several relatives in the Holocaust, was appalled by what he read. Written by Moncton-area juniorhigh-school teacher Malcolm Ross, the 106-page book denied the Nazi slaughter of the Jews and alleged the existence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. “I was disgusted,” Israeli recalled.

“It reminded me of the fascist literature published in Romania in the Thirties.”

Nine years later Israeli is still protesting. The New Brunswick government has twice refused to take legal action against Ross, who continues to teach English and remedial mathematics to students at Moncton’s Magnetic Hill Junior High School. And Ross’s local school board says that it will not discipline him because there is no evidence that he is teaching anti-Semitism in the classroom. Said board chairman Carl Ross (no relation): “We had to ask ourselves, is this person doing the job he was hired to do? And the fact of the matter is that he is.”

But leaders of New Brunswick’s small (700) Jewish community—and many Christians as well—are determined not to let the matter drop. Last week, on the eve of Passover, the League for Human Rights of B’nai B’rith Canada broke months of silence and called on the provincial government to deter Ross, if necessary by taking legal action. Bernard Vigod, the league’s Atlantic chairman, said that his group decided to speak out because “it appears that the system has totally failed to meet the challenge of a particularly ugly form of anti-Semitic prejudice.”

Indeed, Ross’s critics have been frustrated at every turn. Israeli said that when he laid a complaint with the RCMP in 1978 about Web of Deceit, the government “dragged things for three or four months, then gave a confused answer.” After that, the case received little attention until 1985, when Israeli filed a new complaint with the RCMP, just three days after Alberta teacher James Keegstra was convicted of promoting hatred against Jews for teaching anti-Semitism in his classroom. Once again, there was no action against Ross, but Israeli kept pushing. He filed new complaints in 1986 about a letter Ross

wrote to the editor of the Miramichi Leader of Newcastle, N.B., again alleging that Jewish leaders were conspiring to take over the world. And last month Israeli laid yet another complaint when he discovered Web of Deceit on sale at two Miramichi-area stores.

Last year Attorney General David Clark decided not to prosecute Ross, arguing that his books were not generally available. He stuck to his decision even after the books were found on the shelves of New Brunswick libraries. Now, Clark is studying a confidential RCMP report based on Israeli’s latest complaints. But Clark said that he will not be rushed into a decision. “I have a legal decision to make, and that’s what I intend to make,” he said.

Vigod maintained that there are several ways the government could approach the Ross case, and “the problem is it hasn’t taken any of them.” In addition to laying charges of spreading hatred, Vigod said that the government could also examine Ross’s professional standing or fight racial hatred in the schools. In fact, the education ministry announced last week that its social studies curriculum will soon include the subject of intolerance.

Although Ross has denied spreading his views in the classroom, the father of one of Ross’s former pupils claimed to have evidence to the contrary. Retired firefighter Charles DeVona said that in 1976 his daughter Debbie, then 14, came home saying she had learned about blacks from Ross. According to DeVona, Debbie said: “They’re bad. Mr. Ross would like to go to Rhodesia to fight them for the Queen.” DeVona complained to a local school trustee at the time, but the board did not act. And his daughter declined to talk to the school board when it investigated Ross again this year.

As for the man at the source of the controversy, he has kept a low profile. Ross declined to comment on the issue last week, but in the past he has said that his works speak for themselves. In addition to Web of Deceit, they include an anti-abortion polemic called The Real Holocaust and a book comparing Christianity and Judaism entitled The Battle for Truth.

While New Brunswick’s Jewish community has voiced dismay at government inaction, Vigod said that some positive moves have emerged from the issue. One is the strong condemnation of anti-Semitism by the province’s Christian churches. Another is a change in attitude among New Brunswick’s Jews. At first, said Vigod, many Jews chose to ignore Ross and his writings. “But now,” he said, “it has become a question of self-respect for us to speak out.”

— KATHRYN HARLEY in Fredericton