Demonstrating behind closed doors
Recently, a community rally in support of Israel was held indoors, at Beth Tzedec Congregation. Similarly, rallies, also in and around Jewish institutions, took place in Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Yet when one looks around the world at pro-Israel rallies since the incursion into Gaza, the vast majority of them outside Canada were held outdoors, and open to the public.
More than 10,000 Jews and non-Jews gathered on 42nd Street in New York outside the Israeli consulate recently to show their support for the Gaza offensive. Thousands more pro-Israel demonstrators rallied across cities in Europe, including Prague, Dublin, Antwerp and Berlin. Twenty thousand people participated in the London demonstration, which took place in Trafalgar Square.
Despite the fact that venomous anti-Israel groups stood metres away from Jews, yelling vicious epithets, Diaspora communities outside of Canada stood, firmly and heroically, displaying their support for Israel.
I asked Bernie Farber, the CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, which was involved in organizing the Toronto rally, why it is that we hide away in fear when demonstrating in favour of our homeland Israel.
Bernie said, “I don’t think we should take the fact that we chose to demonstrate civilly and not demonize our neighbours as fear. Instead, we demonstrated according to Canadian values – sensitively, with understanding and compassion.”
He added, “I don’t think that taking to the street gives expression to bravery and courage. One can demonstrate in all kind of ways and besides, nobody had negated an outdoor rally.”
While Bernie is right that Canadians in general, and more specifically the Jewish community, are and have always been sensitive and decent folk, we were also once a more mighty community, willing to pile into the streets fighting for the release of Soviet Jewry.
I believe that over the years we have indeed become fearful, and if you ask our leaders why we are holding our demonstrations – or perhaps better called “events” – indoors, they will tell you they are afraid of somebody getting hurt, God forbid.
While I certainly appreciate and understand this fear, I would say that there are ways and means of controlling a rally so that injuries do not occur or are minimized through the fine work of our very capable police force and Jewish community security.
Further, and more importantly, the way in which we hide away from our adversaries is clear and evident to the anti-Israel camp. When 1,500 Hamas supporters hold a rally in downtown Toronto and 50 Jews, mostly Israelis, are waving flags across the street, our enemies are encouraged in their fight.
This war should end in its right time. Until it does, however, the Jewish community of Toronto and Canada needs to encourage our Israeli brothers and sisters to be brave in Ashkelon, Sderot and the corridors of Gaza City, as well as expressing that same Jewish bravery in the outdoors of Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax.
We need to do this for our own self-esteem, to allow thousands of non-Jews to demonstrate with us, and and to prove to Israel that Diaspora Jewry has the ability to stand eye-to-eye with our enemies right here in Toronto. If we do not let the Jewish community publicly sing Am Yisrael Chai at the top of our lungs, one voice braided with the next, then in fact we are appearing to be ashamed.
Kol hakavod to our community leaders for co-ordinating a pro-Israel rally. Next time, however, let us strengthen our determination by showing the world openly that Canadian Jews are honourable and fearless because of our love of Israel, God and what is just.