Canada

‘A very different tone this time’: Canadian Jewish leaders warn of spike in anti-Semitic violence   

Not nearly as many violent incidents hit Canadian streets during the last round of Gazan violence in 2014

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Rocks were thrown at pro-Israeli demonstrators in Montreal. Masked men waving Palestinian flags surrounded and beat a lone middle-aged Jewish man near Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. And Jewish communities in western Canada are reporting roving vehicles seeking out “Jews.”

Conflict in Gaza is always apt to stoke ill will against the Canadian Jewish diaspora, but ever since a new round of Hamas-fired rockets began streaking towards Israel in late April, Jewish leaders are reporting that anti-Semitic hatred has taken a particularly sinister turn.

“There is a very different tone this time,” said Adam Zepp, an engineer and lifelong member of the Edmonton Jewish community. In a YouTube video, Zepp described  being in front of his parents’ home over the weekend when two men in a black Audi yelled “free Palestine!” before asking “do you know if any Jews live here?”

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Last week, the Hamas-led government of the Gaza Strip began firing barrages of untargeted rockets into Israeli territory, prompting Israeli military retaliation. While many rockets have been intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, the attacks have killed nine civilians to date. Israeli strikes have killed an estimated 200 in the Gaza Strip, of which Israel has said 130 are Hamas militants.

Toronto Police laid two charges – one for assault and another for bringing a weapon to a public meeting – following a pro-Palestinian demonstration that drew more than 5,000 people to Nathan Phillips Square outside City Hall on Saturday night. A widely circulated video showed 64-year-old Greg Nisan of Thornhill, Ont., being surrounded and struck by masked men as he attempted to leave the area. The Canadian Jewish News reported that Nisan received seven staples and seven stitches to close his wounds.

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In Montreal, demonstrators kicked in the windows of the building housing the Israeli consulate and, in a separate incident, a video posted by Journal de Montreal reporter Francis Pilon showed demonstrators carrying Israeli flags fleeing Dorchester Square to escape what Pilon identified as rocks thrown in their direction. Montreal Police also reported projectiles thrown at police. Ultimately, four arrests were made at the protest; one for mischief for breaking the window, one for assaulting a police officer and two for armed assault of a police officer.

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The video was circulated by Montreal-area Liberal MP Anthony Housefather with the note “this is NOT the Montreal and Canada that I know and love.”

In a statement the Centre for Israeli and Jewish Affairs warned of “a wave of violence and anti-Semitism impacting communities across Canada.” The centre posted images of protest signs in Toronto equating Israel with Nazi Germany, as well as a photo of an SUV spotted driving around the campus of Wilfrid Laurier University flying an Israeli flag desecrated with swastikas.

The Toronto violence prompted condemnations from both Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “Any violence against our city’s Jewish community or members of any other community in Toronto is absolutely unacceptable,” wrote Tory on Sunday. Ford said the behaviour “is totally reprehensible and should be investigated by the police.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the “despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.”

The last time Israel and Gaza saw open conflict was in 2014. After Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers, the Israeli Defence Forces responded with attacks on Hamas leadership, prompting Hamas and its Islamist allies to fire 4,500 rockets into Israeli territory.

At the time, multiple Canadian cities saw street encounters between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators. Although there were reports of skirmishes, there was nothing serious enough to yield charges or a police investigation. Notably, after a woman strode into a Montreal pro-Palestinian rally carrying an Israeli flag and saying the Jewish state had a right to defend itself, a fellow demonstrator disarmed attempts to tear away the flag by hugging the woman and telling her that everyone is hoping for peace.

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If the political temperature seems higher, Zepp blames much the presence of much more prominent anti-Israeli rhetoric on social media. “I don’t recall back in 2014 words like ‘genocide’ or ‘colonialism’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ being thrown around,” he said.

Last week, American model Bella Hadid, whose father is Palestinian, wrote an Instagram post to her 42.4 million followers reading “this is about Israeli colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation and apartheid over the Palestinian people that has been going on for YEARS!”

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Although Twitter has banned multiple U.S. public figures for alleged incitement to violence — most notably former U.S. president Donald Trump — the social media platform has been criticized for appearing much more sanguine about posts targeting Israel and the broader Jewish community. A May 11 Tweet by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, for instance, praised the renewal of rocket attacks with the line “Palestinians are awake and determined … one can only talk with the language of power with these criminals.” Freelance CNN contributor Adeel Raja similarly remains on the platform after tweeting “the world today needs a Hitler” — although CNN has since severed links with the Islamabad-based journalist.

On Sunday, U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson was also driven to make a public statement denouncing anti-Semitism following videos and witness accounts of a motorcade of cars moving through Jewish areas of North London broadcasting messages including “fuck the Jews” and “rape their daughters.”

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