Private Complaint

Wanda Nanibush’s departure from the AGO was preceded by a since-leaked private letter of complaint, verified by reporters at the Globe and Mail and Hyperallergic. Originally leaked in jpeg format, the letter’s text is reproduced in full here.

The Israel Museum and Arts, Canada

Stephan Jost
Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO
Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West
Toronto, Ontario
M5T 1G4

Dear Mr. Jost:

We have been down this road before.

As you likely heard, Wanda Nanibush has resumed posting inflammatory, inaccurate rants against Israel. Ms. Nanibush is certainly entitled to her opinions. If she was fundraising or promoting a vetted charity in aid of civilian Palestinians – we would genuinely applaud her.

Let’s be clear: the Jewish community in Toronto unequivocally wants peace between Palestinians and Israelis. We also know that Hamas is a terrorist organization that needs to be dismantled and that misleading hate speech against Israel is unacceptable.

The reality is that Ms. Nanibush’s stature and position at the AGO validate her hateful opinions. Her unchecked vitriol sends a message to her colleagues, the arts community, and the city that her language and viewpoint is correct and reasonable. It is not. Ms. Nanibush has been peddling these lies since 2016 (when she was published in Canadian Art magazine).

We don’t accept the AGO’s incapacity and refusal to contain this promotion of hateful disinformation by its employee. How would the AGO respond if a senior staff member had been spouting critical opinions and falsehoods against the Trans community for nearly a decade?

We are exhausted and disgusted by her dedication to repeating that Israel is involved with genocide and colonialism. While Ms. Nanibush is supposed to be an indigenous art expert, she perpetually denies that Jews are indigenous to Israel.

As a professional in a museum, she should know that archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of objects confirming ongoing Jewish presence in Israel dating back to the Iron Age (i.e., around 1000 years BCE). The holiest Jewish site in Israel is the Western Wall in Jerusalem – the remaining architectural fragment of the ancient Jewish temple constructed around 516 BCE.

Israel is a refugee state and not a colonizer. There was no “mother country” superpower or empire. Jews did not arrive in an armada with missionaries. Jews have never imposed the Hebrew language nor their religion on their neighbours in the Middle East. Ms. Nanibush needs some serious education on the Arab conquests of the 7th century to understand the religious hegemony of the region. This is not esoteric information.

The AGO should be a place of scholarship and diversity. Yet, a senior, public facing staff member is regularly spreading hateful misinformation, uses incendiary buzzwords and minimizes or ignores terrorism.

We ask that you make a personal commitment to the Jewish community to achieve the following:

  1. Adoption by the AGO of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
  2. Implementation by the AGO of mandatory antisemitism sensitivity training for all members of the curatorial team.

Diversity, inclusion and community building are ideals that we share with the city of Toronto and the AGO. Ms. Naninbush could be promoting cross-cultural dialogue, peace initiatives… something healing and unifying. Instead, she continues to spew hateful and divisive misinformation.

Thank you for your support and for understanding.


Tamara Fine and Darren Sukonick
IMAAC National Co-Chairs

Sara Angel, Lily Fenig and Troy Seidman
IMAAC Directors

Pearl Berman
IMAAC National Director

What did the letter writers mean when they wrote “we have been down this road before”?

Wanda Nanibush was commissioned by editor Bryne McLachlan to write an article for the Fall 2016 issue of Canadian Art magazine. About Land is a personal reflection on shared experiences of colonial trauma: “Colonization, whether in Canada or Palestine, marks a before and after where identity is radically altered by loss.”

However, unlike the 15 other feature articles in that print issue, this article was never published online—anywhere. Digitally, it only exists as a black and white photocopied PDF in academic journal databases and as a low resolution jpeg screenshot of the magazine spread.

Why is this article so impossible to find? McLachlan explained in a comment on November 23, 2023:

Similar circumstances at CA in 2016. Article was suppressed post-print publication by board of directors and publisher under threat of withholding/scuttling future philanthropic and/or advertising support, etc, by similar/same external “stakeholders.” No consultation with editorial or foundation staff, who were subsequently directed not to work with Wanda again (unofficially, of course). Any attempts, even years later, to discuss were flatly met with, “We’re not going to talk about that.”

The article has since been shared on Instagram. Where is the “hateful and divisive misinformation” the letter-writers claim Nanibush “continues to spread”? Why did some members of the AGO board believe that the misrepresentations in this letter constituted grounds to remove her from the institution entirely?

Community Criticism of the Letter to the AGO

Nanibush’s departure follows a leaked letter, written by leadership at Israel Museums and Arts Canada (IMAAC), sent in mid-October to AGO Director and CEO Stephan Jost. IMAAC’s letter is rife with spurious claims—strategically omitting a 75-year campaign to erase Palestinian lives, histories, archaeologies, and ecologies from their original lands in service of a violent ethnonationalist apartheid state. It characterises Nanibush’s social media posts as “hateful,” and disputes Israel’s status as an illegal occupying state, despite a UN commission supporting this fact. 

I am also deeply concerned by IMAAC’s insistence that the AGO adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which equates criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism. Institutional endorsements of the IHRA definition have been rejected by international human rights groups and Jewish institutions and organisations, including Independent Jewish Voicesand Canada’s Jewish Faculty Network (CJFN). In CJFN’s words, IHRA’s framing “equates Jewishness and Judaism with the State of Israel,” and “threatens to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s grave violations of international law.” 

– Censure of Wanda Nanibush and Silencing of Decolonial Voices at the AGO

It is clear from a letter authored by members of Israel Museums and Arts, Canada (IMAAC), and leaked to the public, that pro-Israel donors and supporters of the AGO pressured the museum’s director and board of directors into silencing Nanibush’s ongoing efforts to educate people about Palestinians and their fight for freedom—and her condemnation of what the United Nations has warned is a “genocide in the making” by Israeli forces—which ultimately led to her departure from the institution.

The letter openly admits this is not the first time its signatories have attempted to intimidate the museum’s administration to punish Nanibush for her expressions of solidarity with Palestinians. Within the last few years, it is clear that there are privately funded bodies monitoring the actions of arts institutions and lobbying to publicly defund organizations that critique the actions of the state of Israel and/or organizations that support the actions of the state of Israel.

Using a definition of antisemitism that has been widely condemned by Jewish scholars and by activists in an appeal to the United Nations, the letter describes Nanibush’s posts on social media in deeply condescending and colonialist tones. The letter also makes disturbing comparisons between a critique of the Israeli government and antisemitism, and invokes imagined acts of transphobia that tokenizes violence against trans and gender-diverse individuals as justification for silencing an Indigenous curator. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. We reject these conflations.

– Open Letter to the Art Gallery of Ontario