TORONTO — B’nai Brith Canada thinks that getting an early start and the introduction of Bill C-51 might give it a real shot this year at persuading the Ontario Legislative Assembly to prohibit an Al-Quds Day anti-Israel rally from taking place at Queen’s Park this summer.
In association with a number of partner organizations, B’nai Brith launched its first “Stop Al-Quds Day” online petition March 25, and by April 1, it had collected more than 1,200 signatures.
Critics of the annual rallies say they promote hatred and anti-Semitism and that a protest calling for Israel’s destruction should not be allowed at Queen’s Park.
Jewish groups have tried unsuccessfully to have the events banned in the past, and they’ve brought comments made there to the attention of police, who also monitor the events, but no hate charges have been laid.
B’nai Brith communications officer Sam Eskenasi said that since 2009, his group has lobbied Ontario’s three provincial political parties to push the Legislative Assembly to refuse a public permit to Al-Quds Day protesters.
He cited the federal government’s recently proposed anti-terror law, Bill C-51, as a reason B’nai Brith’s online campaign could gain traction with the legislature.
“We’re trying to get our voices heard early this year, because in the past, the [Jewish] community only heard about the rally in the news or in a press release just before it happened,” he told The CJN.
The online petition is addressed to David Joseph Levac, speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who is in charge of the grounds where the rally usually takes place: “We the undersigned… demand that you no longer allow hateful rallies promoting propaganda contrary to Canadian values at the seat of government power.”
It continues: “With the increasing threat of home-grown radicalization, we cannot allow this anti-western rhetoric to continue unabated on the grounds of our legislature.”
International Al-Quds Day, typically celebrated after the fast month of Ramadan, was started in 1979 by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in solidarity with the Palestinians and in opposition to Zionism and the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
Al-Quds Day rallies are held annually in cities across Canada and the United States. Last year’s rally at Queen’s Park was held July 26. Ramadan ends this year on July 17.
According to an International Al-Quds Day website, “International Day of al-Quds is an annual event supporting a just peace for Palestine, and opposing apartheid Israel’s control of Jerusalem.”
The website’s authors are not specifically identified, and the “About us” section says the Al-Quds Day events are “funded through many small, individual private donations within the U.S. and Canada.”
B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said that “as Canadians, we can no longer tolerate the grounds of our legislature being used for promoting Iranian government propaganda and supporting international terror as can be seen [at past years’ protests] by things such as the waving of Hezbollah flags.”
Partners of the “Stop Al-Quds Day” initiative include the groups One Free World International, Canadian Thinkers’ Forum, Christians United for Israel Canada, Hasbara York and Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights.
Muslim, Pakistani Tahir Gora is director of the non-profit Canadian Thinkers’ Forum, whose mission is to “address the challenges of Muslim segregation and radicalization faced in Canadian society.”
Gora said his organization supports the campaign because it believes the Al-Quds Day rally is “based on hatred toward communities, especially Jewish… and creates a kind of tension between Jews and Muslims that we don’t want to see in Canada.”
Mostyn attributed non-Jewish groups’ support of the cause to the fact “radicalization is an issue that affects all Canadians” and called the B’nai Brith-led campaign a “non-partisan… grassroots initiative comprised of individuals who believe in a tolerant and pluralistic society.”
B’nai Brith has not received an official response yet from the speaker, Eskenasi said, but it expects to, and it hopes to garner more support in advance of the rally.
The petition can be found at www.stopalquds.ca.
Calls to the speaker of the legislature and were not returned by The CJN’s deadline, and efforts to reach last year’s rally organizers were unsuccessful.