The annual Al-Quds Day march and rally in Toronto made its way from Queen’s Park to the American consulate on Saturday.
Members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) organized a counter-protest directly across from the consulate, in front of a Staples office supply store at the corner of University Avenue and Armoury Street.
Al-Quds Day started in Iran in 1979 as a way to protest Jerusalem Day. It’s traditionally held around the world on the final day of Ramadan and generally includes calls to end the “occupation” of Jerusalem and for the destruction of Israel.
In response to this year’s event in Toronto, where alleged Holocaust denier Kevin Barrett was slated to speak, B’nai Brith launched an online petition to keep him out of Canada.
“Toronto police must not allow Queen’s Park, our provincial legislature, to become a platform for Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, and the CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) must not allow Kevin Barrett into our country. Enough is enough,” wrote B’nai Brith in a news release.
Despite garnering more than 2,000 digital signatures, the petition was ultimately unsuccessful and Barrett addressed the crowd, as scheduled.
Posts on social media show the Al-Quds Day march moving down University Avenue towards the consulate. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) shared photos of people carrying Palestinian flags and signs calling for a boycott of Israel, as well as a video on Twitter of protesters chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
“We urge leaders in government and civil society to join us in strongly condemning this shameful demonstration of bigotry and extremism,” Berl Nadler, the Toronto chair of CIJA, said in a statement.
“It is disturbing, but not surprising, to see that the Al-Quds Day rally was once again a platform for calls for Israel’s destruction and the airing of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories – including the claim that Israel was behind 9/11.”
Hebrew music could be heard from the JDL counter-protest, which included individuals waving Israeli and Canadian flags. People holding signs for Pegida, an anti-Islam group, as well as a stop M-103 (the anti-Islamophobia motion) banner were also spotted.
There was heavy police presence along University Avenue to keep the two crowds apart, after they both converged by the consulate in the late afternoon.