TORONTO — About 1,200 people flooded the sanctuary at Beth Tzedec Congregation on July 16 to attend the Rally for the People of Israel sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
The event was organized to demonstrate that Toronto’s Jewish community stands in firm solidarity with Israel, and to show appreciation for the Canadian government’s unyielding pro-Israel stance. Attendees enthusiastically waved both Canadian and Israeli flags.
Julia Koschitzky served as MC, and the rally featured several prominent speakers, video messages from Israel and prayers for peace.
Kotschitzky started by referring to the tragic loss of innocent lives in Gaza, adding, “We know it cannot be avoided, because Hamas continues to use its people as human shields.”
She spoke of the “quiet heroism” of Israeli soldiers and citizens who are currently living in a “constant state of stress and pressure,” and of the comfort the Jewish community can feel knowing Israelis are being protected by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the Iron Dome.
Further, she expressed a sense of gratitude at living in Canada, at “knowing we are safe and that our government’s support for Israel is unparalleled.”
In his speech, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafi Barak, described Israel as a liberal, democratic “island of stability” and Hamas as “part of a sea of violence raging in the Middle East.”
He said Israel, since its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, has no territorial claims over the latter, but added that the country has “a moral duty, as a democracy, to protect its people.”
He thanked the Toronto Jewish community, saying, “Your prayers and contributions serve as a pillar of strength for Israel.”
Following this, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau, addressed the audience via Skype from a parallel Israel rally held at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre in Ottawa.
Garneau said Canada’s support for Israel is not partisan, but is based on principle, and that “when citizens of a country are threatened by terror, other countries must speak up.”
He stressed his belief that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that Israel has a right and a duty to protect its citizens by attempting to cut off Hamas’s rocket supply.
“To argue that [Israel] can’t target Hamas for fear of hurting innocent people is equivalent to saying it isn’t allowed to defend itself,” he emphasized.
“Those innocent people would be alive today if Hamas didn’t fire rockets.”
Garneau reiterated the Liberal party’s condemnation of Hamas’s rejection of a proposed ceasefire and its commendation of Israel for agreeing to it.
He also lamented that, shortly after the ceasefire was turned down, one Israeli and four Palestinians were killed.
“I know there are moderate Palestinians aching for peace,” he said in conclusion, affirming that the Liberal party is still in favour of a two-state solution.
John Baird, who received a crash of applause from the audiences in Toronto and Ottawa, began: “I always start my speeches by saying I’m happy to be here. I’m not happy to be here… given the tragedy of the recent days and weeks… I wish we could be here on a happier occasion.”
He said the “great struggle of our generation” is the struggle against terrorism, and “far too often, Jews and Israel are on the front lines of that struggle.”
He spoke out against comparisons between Israel and Hamas, stressing that “there’s no room for moral relativism when it comes to terrorism and the State of Israel… When I see leaders or pundits saying both sides need to stop, to de-escalate, it’s wrong. Hamas’s raison d’être is the destruction of Israel… It started this conflict and it’s the one that has to stop.”
Baird said Canada will continue to support Palestinians in the West Bank on humanitarian issues and on increasing their security capacity.
“We all want a two-state solution,” he added.
He pledged Canada’s ongoing support for Israel, and, to thunderous applause, concluded: “Friends are those who stand by you in hard times, not just in easy times.”
Beth Tzedec’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl led the crowd in the recitation of prayers for the State of Israel and for IDF soldiers.
In her closing remarks, Koschitzky encouraged the audience to make a small donation to UJA’s Israel Emergency Relief Fund.
She finished by passionately stating, “We hope and pray to God that we won’t need to have a gathering like this in future.”