The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto is disputing descriptions of raucous anti-Zionist protests at the facility. Claims of protests were made by Canada’s former ambassador to Israel.
Ellen Cole, the MNJCC’s executive director, told The CJN that statements made by Vivian Bercovici, Canada’s envoy to Israel from 2014 to 2016, about anti-Israel demonstrations outside the downtown JCC are “completely misrepresented.”
Bercovici, in referencing the recent controversy around metal detectors on the Temple Mount in an Aug. 1 opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post, wrote that demonstrators gather every Friday, and sometimes on Saturdays, outside Israel’s consulate on Bloor Street, which is several blocks east of the JCC.
“Typically, after a few hours, the demonstrators walk west along Bloor Street, braying all the way, until they reach the JCC. And there they stop. Mere meters from the front door, they scream at the people who come to enjoy the facility on a Saturday afternoon: young families; seniors; students. Out for a swim class, yoga, spin, workout. Pretty mundane, non-political stuff,” Bercovici wrote.
She continued: “During their ‘Saturday specials’ at the JCC, these ‘peace’ activists yell, threaten and intimidate. Correction: they don’t yell. They scream at the top of their lungs. Rage at Israel. Jews. Zionists. Zionism. Oppressive Fascists. Nazis. All the stuff that has become the standard chants of the modern Jew-hater.”
The protesters scare “little children going for a swim class with mommy or daddy,” Bercovici wrote.
Cole said she checked with the Jewish centre’s security and the front desk staff, and that none of them recalled any such protests targeting the JCC.
“There is nothing in the history of my being here in the last 12-½ years that any of this has happened,” Cole said. “If this were happening, I would have been informed.”
In an email to The CJN, Bercovici said she had “personal experience (with) such incidents. As have others I know.”
Cole said that several weeks ago, demonstrators marched past the JCC on the other side of Bloor Street.
“They didn’t even stop,” Cole said. “There was no yelling, shouting (or) stopping people from coming in.”
She called the column “irresponsible.”
In it, Bercovici wrote that her friend went to the JCC by bicycle “last Saturday” (July 29) and “found himself terrified as he threaded the narrow bike-lane strip acting as something of a ‘no-man’s land’ between a phalanx of police officers – who were ensuring the steps to the JCC front door were clear for members – and the angry mob chanting, relentlessly: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ and other catchy slogans.”
She told The CJN that the column was “anecdotal” and “based on the observations of a friend a few weeks ago.”
Bercovici, who lives in Tel Aviv and is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank, told The CJN that there are “weekly” demonstrations in front of the Israeli consulate on Fridays and sometimes on Saturdays.
“Once in a while, when there is a particularly thorny issue, the demonstrators continue down Bloor Street and demonstrate outside the JCC. This is what occurred on Saturday, July 29. This has happened many times over the years, July 29 being the most recent,” she said.
B’nai Brith Canada sent The CJN a YouTube video of a pro-Palestinian demonstration on July 29. With bullhorn in hand, the leader of the protest directed placard-carrying participants to walk west from the Israeli consulate to the constituency office of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, “one of Justin Trudeau’s key ministers, who (supports) the State of Israel.”
Freeland’s office is right across the street from the JCC, but, somewhat contradicting Cole’s statements about the protest being on the other side of the street and not stopping, it appears as though police kept most of the crowd on the other side of Bloor Street, outside the JCC.
Participants, accompanied by several people in chassidic Jewish garb, shouted pro-Palestinian slogans under the eye of police.
Cole said protesters targeted the government, not the JCC.
“Bloor Street isn’t even our front entrance,” she said. “And no one was being prevented from coming into our building. The reason we didn’t file an incident report is because there was no incident.”
Asked whether Freeland might have been the target of the protest, Bercovici said, “I have no idea.”
Pro-Palestinian demonstrations outside Israel’s consulate are “fairly frequent, but I wouldn’t describe them as regular,” said B’nai Brith Canada’s Aidan Fishman.
They tend to occur only during, or after, incidents in the Middle East, such as the recent tensions around the Temple Mount, he said.
And as far as Fishman knows, none of the previous anti-Israel demonstrations near the consulate have marched to Freeland’s office. “That seems to be a new development,” he said.
The July 29 protest appeared to have been organized in response to recent tensions on the Temple Mount, according to Sara Lefton of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “In general, these protests are not a regular occurrence,” she added.
In her column, Bercovici also recalled a time when “my daughters were little, we had to run a gauntlet of haters to enter the JCC in downtown Toronto.”
Cole said it’s “a little bit unethical to bring together something that might have happened historically with nothing that is happening now.
“I would suggest that if you’re going to write about something and try to make comparisons, that you get your facts right and that you check your facts before you report them.”
Cole also disputed Bercovici’s description of the Miles Nadal JCC as “a brown brick, no-nonsense, utilitarian, nondescript block.”
“It’s been a brand new, steel and Jerusalem stone building since 2004,” Cole noted.
Bercovici also took community, civic, provincial and federal leaders to task for failing to speak out about the protests.
“This scourge is not new. Or secret. But it is, remarkably, unremarked upon,” she wrote.
Bercovici, who’s a lawyer by trade, was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to Israel by the Harper government and was replaced with a career diplomat by the Trudeau Liberals.
Bercovici’s credentials “are impeccable, and we have no reason to doubt her version of events that she describes in her column,” Jerusalem Post managing editor David Brinn said via email.