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Friday, September 19, 2014

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Calgary Jews hope next anti-Israel rally stays peaceful

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Protesters at a July 18 rally that ended in violence THOMAS MOORE PHOTO

The Calgary Jewish Federation hopes that an anti-Israel protest scheduled for Friday in front of Calgary’s City Hall won’t lead to the same kind of violence that pro-Israel supporters faced the week before at a similar rally.

At the July 18 protest, hundreds of pro-Palestinians rallied to protest the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Judy Shapiro, associate executive director of the Calgary Jewish Federation, who attended last Friday’s rally as an observer, said violence erupted when a group of less than 10 pro-Israel demonstrators stood at the edge of the growing Palestinian crowd waving Israeli flags.

“I was on the sidewalk across from where the pro-Palestinian rally was,” Shapiro recalled.

“Ahead of me, I saw a group of mostly young people with Israeli flags. It appeared to me that they were walking towards the pro-Palestinians, but before they reached the people, a huge crowd, maybe 30 people, crossed over from the demonstration to the other side of the street and literally swarmed them. They surrounded them. They were up against a building, so there was nowhere to go, and they were beaten up.”

She said one person suffered a concussion, another was punched in the face, another suffered a broken nose, and a woman was punched in the stomach.

“It was ugly,” she said.

Jake Birrell, a 20-year-old Mount Royal University student who came to the protest in support of Israel, was attacked but declined to comment to The CJN, heeding the advice of his lawyers.

Shapiro said police weren’t present at the start of the rally when the violence broke out.

“I had warned them that there was a potential. I had heard people were going down to counter protest and I warned the police,” she said.

Calgary Police Service spokesperson Kevin Brookwell said they meant to be there.

“To sum it up, we dropped the ball… A simple thing like an email was missed… which means that the officers who were supposed to be assigned to that event were not there, but there were other officers close by that were able to respond quickly.”

He said police are investigating allegations of violence at the rally, which was organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights [SPHR] and Justice for Palestinians, but no charges have been laid.

“We have two people who have come forward with regards to assault allegations and we have spoken to them as well as their legal counsel,” he said, adding that detectives are looking at evidence from online sources and working with the two groups to identify people.


Pro-Palestinian protesters attack a pro-Israel rallier. THOMAS MOORE PHOTO
 

The organizers of the protest have also since apologized to the victims of the violent attacks.

SPHR president and University of Calgary student Ala’a Hamdan said that since last week’s protest attracted about 1,000 people, she expects the momentum to bring the number to more than 1,000 for the upcoming rally planned this Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. Calgary time.

She said the plan is to demonstrate in front of City Hall weekly until the war is over, adding that she has asked for police presence.

“We want to get police presence right off the bat. We did plan for that last time, but unfortunately, there was a mix up and the police never showed up on time as agreed,” Hamdan said.

“This time around, we are making arrangements for them to show up extra early so that they will have a clear presence and deter anyone away from engaging in clashes.”

Hamdan said organizers have also decided to advertise for the next rally differently.

“We called it a protest before for Gaza and now we’re calling it a peace and anti-racism rally. We’re advertising it as a peaceful event for people to come and mourn the lives lost and talk about and stand in solidarity.”

Shapiro said she plans to attend the rally again on Friday, but is confident the scene will be calmer.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion with the police. We have a very good relationship with the police… they are very helpful to us on many, many levels,” Shapiro said.

“They didn’t come through this time, and they’ve acknowledged that, and I’m confident that it’s not going to happen again.”

Brookwell also anticipates that a strong police presence will keep demonstrators in check.

“Each side has differing opinions and different thoughts, and when they come together it is a very charged and emotionally-heightened event, but our job is not to prevent them from doing that, but to allow them to exercise their rights under the Charter, and keep the peace. It’s critical to be there right at the start and that is where we failed these folks this past Friday and it certainly will not happen again,” Brookwell said.

On Wednesday night, more than 200 people attended a pro-Israel rally at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre. A man who is well-known to police tried to enter the event carrying a concealed air gun that was discovered during a security check.

The man was arrested and is being charged with possessing a weapon dangerous to public peace. Police said he acted alone and wasn’t related to last week’s clash, Canadian Press reported.

Meanwhile, B’nai Brith Canada is reporting a number of violent incidents involving Jews across the country.

“There are… reports that pro-Israel demonstrators in Ottawa were told by police to leave, since their safety could not be guaranteed,” said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO.

“In Montreal alone we have seen the effects of anti-Israel fervor which have resulted in attacks on Jews, be it a Jewish visitor punched in the face outside a kosher restaurant, a chassidic woman slapped in the face by a man riding a bike, a Jewish boy threatened by a neighbour as he walked by their porch commanding his dog to ‘get the Jew’ and a Jewish woman protester shoved to the ground.” 

Montreal police are also investigating a possible hate crime in which a Jewish man, a French tourist, was punched in the face as he walked out of a kosher restaurant on Queen Mary Road on Monday, CTV News reported.

He was talking to his sister about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when a man punched him, leaving him with a concussion and a fractured cheekbone.

Canadian Press reported that in Montreal last week, during a protest that saw hundreds of people march through the north end of the city to protest Israeli attacks on Hamas, a woman who waved a small Israeli flag was confronted by a man who tried to rip the flag out of her hand, causing her to lose her balance.

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