A prominent Canadian Jewish advocacy group hosted a virtual event in solidarity with Israel on Sunday, and pro-Palestinian demonstrations continued in Canadian cities, amid ongoing violence between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza.
“Even the remarkable Iron Dome defence system cannot protect Israeli citizens — young and old, Jew and Arab — from the trauma of an endless barrage of alerts and rockets,” Andrea Freedman said at the beginning of the pro-Israel virtual event, which was organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“Jewish Canadians want peace, and we are very concerned that antisemitic violence is taking root here in Canada,” said Freedman, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
CIJA said almost 1,000 people attended the event, which featured prayers from students and Holocaust survivors as well as remarks from Ohad Kaynar, the deputy head of mission at Israel’s embassy in Canada.
The virtual event came amid a weekend that saw pro-Palestinian demonstrations in cities across Canada, with particularly large crowds in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver on Saturday.
“People are tired. People want to see justice. People want to see the Canadian government help Palestinians in their fight for justice,” Shahed Helmy, a Canadian-Palestinian student at the University of Ottawa who assisted with Saturday’s demonstration in the capital, told Radio-Canada’s Nafi Alibert.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ottawa?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Ottawa</a> Police estimate about 2,000 to 3,000 people attended the rally organized by organizations representing the local Palestinian community condemning the ongoing violence. Many here told me they are worried about family overseas. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ottnews?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ottnews</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Ptk3UjnE4x”>pic.twitter.com/Ptk3UjnE4x</a>
On Sunday, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people, Palestinian medics said — the deadliest single attack in the latest round of violence.
Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel. One slammed into a synagogue in the southern city of Ashkelon hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said; no injuries were reported.
‘Don’t give up’
On Sunday in St. John’s, about 200 people attended a pro-Palestinian rally in front of the Colonial Building. Among the speakers was St. John’s East NDP MP Jack Harris, the federal NDP’s foreign affairs critic, who said Canada hasn’t done enough to advance peace and justice in the Middle East.
Harris said the protest against ongoing violence might be part of a broader awakening that could result in progress. “Let’s fight for it, don’t give up, we have people on your side around the world,” he told the crowd.
Pro-Israel demonstrations were also held in person in Canadian cities on Sunday.
In Ottawa, a few hundred people gathered at a pro-Israel rally in the parking lot at Tom Brown Arena west of the city’s downtown calling for peace in the region. Organizers said the purpose of the rally was to show support for people in Israel and their right to live in peace.
Following the rally, a car convoy drove through downtown past Parliament Hill, as car horns honked and Israeli flags flew outside vehicles. Ottawa police estimated that about 100 vehicles took part in the convoy.
In Montreal, police deployed tear gas after pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held just a few blocks apart downtown, leading to clashes.
Jewish organizations in Montreal said a group of pro-Palestinian protesters attacked the pro-Israel demonstrators with rocks.
Police intervened with tear gas to disperse the crowds, according to Radio-Canada. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was injured in the clashes or whether police had made arrests. Police didn’t say who was responsible for starting the violence.
In Vancouver, a few hundred pro-Israel demonstrators marched from city hall to the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown, calling for peace in the region.
“Every single one of my children have trauma from living there,” Amanda Malul, who raised her children in Israel before moving to Canada, told CBC’s Joel Ballard. “And I know Palestinian children have trauma, too. It’s terrible on all sides. It shouldn’t be this way.
“There’s no reason we can’t come to some sort of agreement where we can all live together.”
In Calgary, a car convoy with hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators demanded an end to Israeli airstrikes targeting the Gaza Strip.
“It’s really important that we stand here and we educate the world about what’s going on,” said Maha Al-ghoul, one of the rally’s organizers. “Because as far as the average Canadian person … they need to know what’s going on because as Canadians we are peace-loving people — this is against what we believe in.”
Allegations of assault at Saturday rally in Toronto
In Toronto, several Canadian Jewish organizations published a statement early Sunday alleging that pro-Palestinian demonstrators, who gathered for a rally in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, assaulted pro-Israeli demonstrators.
“We condemn in the strongest terms these brazen acts of assault, intimidation, and hate targeting members of Toronto’s Jewish community and supporters of Israel,” said the statement from CIJA, B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
“There is absolutely no justification for political violence in the streets of Toronto, whatever one’s cause may be.”
Toronto police said in a news release Sunday they are aware of a video circulating online that shows a man being assaulted. Police said the incident happened outside of Nathan Phillips Square and officers are investigating.
The statement from the Canadian Jewish organizations was shared on Twitter by Conservative Sen. Linda Frum, while federal Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole retweeted her and commented: “acts of violence and antisemitism on the streets of Toronto and elsewhere in Canada are disturbing and unacceptable.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory also posted a similar statement, adding that he’s been in contact with interim police chief James Ramer and asked to be informed of the steps police are taking to investigate “a particularly disturbing incident” from Saturday.
Hate, anti-Semitism and violence have no place in our city. Any violence against our city’s Jewish community or members of any other community in Toronto is absolutely unacceptable. <a href=”https://t.co/nlI9xSfC1q”>pic.twitter.com/nlI9xSfC1q</a>
“Discrimination or hatred of any kind against any community in our province should never be tolerated,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a series of tweets posted Sunday evening.
Toronto police announced on Sunday that they arrested and charged two people following Saturday’s demonstrations at Nathan Phillips Square, as well as one person at an unrelated event at Queen’s Park.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the weekend’s demonstrations. “Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada — but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind,” he wrote on Twitter.
Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind. We strongly condemn the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.