MONTREAL — Employees of a St. Denis Street store selling Israeli footwear were shocked to find antisemitic graffiti scrawled on the sidewalk outside when they came to work the morning of Saturday, June 15.
As of June 20, the phrase “fuck Israhell” between two swastikas scrawled in red paint was still in front of Chaussures Naot at 3941 St. Denis St. It was removed by city workers late last week.
“It’s blatant hate, blatant antisemitism,” said Natasha Lissoos, general manager of Ontario-based Solemates Inc., which owns the eight Naot stores in Canada.
Naot has been the target of anti-Israel demonstrations almost every Saturday afternoon for two years, organized by the group PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity), which calls for a boycott of Israeli goods.
This is the first time, however, that any graffiti of this nature has been left at the scene since the store opened in March 2010, Lissoos said.
There is no evidence PAJU is connected to the graffiti. The group did not show up on June 15, she said.
Lissoos, whose mother Corinne Lissoos owns Solemates, said the graffiti must have been done overnight, after the small store closed at 9 p.m. Friday, June 14.
“We called the police, and they did open a docket, which is unusual, because normally if we call them during the demonstrations they just come and take a little drive by,” she said.
They have heard nothing more from the police.
The city was also called to remove the graffiti, she said. “They said they would come, but it’s still there.”
Lisoos said the demonstrations, normally five to 10 protesters with large banners denouncing Israeli “apartheid,” are negatively affecting business. She gauges that by comparing sales at Naot’s other Montreal store on Monkland Avenue in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, which opened in 2006.
The latter store has never been targeted by anti-Israel activists. In October 2010, PAJU launched its campaign to make St. Denis Street, which is filled with fashionable shops and eateries, an “Israeli apartheid free zone.”
Another shoe store, Boutique Le Marcheur, across the street from Naot, was the initial target, even though only a small percentage of its merchandise is from Israel.
Naot’s neighbouring retail businesses feel they’re being hurt by the demonstrations as well, she said. And the impact isn’t only economic: Naot’s employees find the situation very stressful.
The chain’s owners are frustrated by their lack of success in stopping the demonstrations through law enforcement, political and other official means.
“We have written many letters, to the [then] premier [Jean Charest], to Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper, to MPs, to business associations, to tax offices and get no response,” Lissoos said. “It just falls on deaf ears.
“This is blatant hatred, and the crazy thing is we can do nothing about it… This could go on forever.”
The graffiti was removed after being there almost a week following the intervention of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Its Quebec vice-president Luciano Del Negro applauded the attention given to this incident by Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron, who is the city councillor for the Jeanne Mance district in which Naot is located.
“Mr. Bergeron made it clear that this was completely intolerable,” said Del Negro.
Bergeron wrote on his Facebook page that “hateful discourse is unacceptable in Montreal. As soon as I was informed that the antisemitic graffiti had been spray-painted on the sidewalk in front of Naot Shoes, I ensured that it would be removed immediately.”
In 2011, Montreal city council passed a resolution denouncing the demonstrations and a similar motion tabled by the three major parties in the National Assembly died because Québec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir refused his assent to debate it.
Lissoos said the company’s mounting a civil law case has been considered. “We explored that, but it is expensive and a judge could rule either way. We have no guarantees.”
Naot’s landlord, who lives above the store, has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, she said, arguing that the rights of the business owners and their employees are being violated.
Until last year, pro-Israel counter-demonstrators also showed up in front of Naot on Saturdays, at first mainly from the Jewish community, but later protests included members of a Facebook group called Les amis québécois d’Israel.
Lissoos said the Naot owners were grateful for the support, but asked them to discontinue. “With five or 10 from [PAJU] and then 30 or 50 of them, it just became too chaotic.”
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