Hamilton school board investigating employee complaint of anti-Semitism
Anissa Hersh says board ignored her when she originally raised concerns
A speech pathologist with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has filed a harassment charge against the board after an anti-Semitic comment toward her went unacknowledged.
The board has confirmed to CBC News it is doing an internal investigation into the allegation, and has hired an external mediator to support the investigation.
Anissa Hersh alleges a colleague told her in a meeting two years ago that, "the only thing Jews are good for is making money."
Hersh reported the incident at that time, but nothing came of the complaint, she says.
Instead, the woman was promoted this January. Hersh complained about this, saying that the woman never acknowledged or apologized for her remark.
Hersh says nothing came of those complaints, either. She claims that in a meeting that took place before the end of the school year, the woman told her that "she can't be expected to remember everything she says."
That's when Hersh filed the harassment charge.
Hersh has been removed from her team so that she does not have to come into contact with the person she has filed the allegation against.
"I was the one who was set aside and punished," she says. "They punished the victim."
The school board's director of education, Manny Figueiredo, said in a written statement that the board condemns "all acts of hate."
Figueiredo's statement goes on to say that, "allegations of discrimination, prejudice and intolerance are taken seriously."
The school board won't comment specifically on Hersh's charge, citing confidentiality.
Hersh says she's worried that the results of the investigation will be confidential, and that nothing will come of her harassment charge.
"What scares me," Hersh says, "is that I work for an organization that doesn't think anti-Semitism is worth addressing."
Hersh has worked for the school board for 16 years, and says she loves her job. She claims that she has always faced anti-Semitic discrimination, but that it has been on the rise in the past five years.
This is supported by statistics from a Hamilton Police Service report that was released in the spring, that showed there was a 25 per cent increase in hate crimes against Jewish people from 2017 to 2018.
Gustavo Rymberg is the chief executive officer of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, and he is aware of Hersh's complaint, and the school board's investigation. He says, the rise in anti-Semitism is bad for everyone.
He says it affects Jewish people on a personal level, but it also prevents Jewish people from fully engaging in their community.
Rymberg says educating people at every level — from elementary school to the workplace — is key to addressing any kind of discrimination.
He says, education has to go beyond reading a book about anti-Semitism; he says we need to talk about it, and to speak up when we see it happening.