Three levels of government say they are “aware” of an anti-Israel rally that’s planned to coincide with the annual UJA Walk With Israel in Toronto on May 20.
Two counter-rallies are planned for that day. One, organized by several pro-Palestinian groups, including Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, is planned for 9:45 a.m. on May 20 at a parkette on the southeast corner of Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue.
Organizers said they will be a “peaceful counter-presence” that will oppose “this display of support for a violent, colonial state.”
The route of this year’s Walk With Israel begins at 10 a.m. at Earl Bales Park and will take participants right past the protest.
The other counter-rally is slated for that afternoon, when the walk will become a street festival on Bathurst Street that will run from York Downs Drive to Wilson Avenue.
That counter-protest, led by a group called Canadian Defenders for Human Rights, is slated to take place at 3 p.m. in Clanton Park, which falls within the area that’s slated to be closed to vehicles for the street festival.
A May 13 statement issued jointly by York Centre MP Michael Levitt, MPP Roman Baber and Ward 6 Coun. James Pasternak said that, “We are aware of an anti-Israel rally in our York Centre constituency that is planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the annual UJA Walk With Israel next Monday.”
The statement also addressed a video that was posted to Facebook on May 11, in which a man says that the counter-protest (he didn’t say which one) was intended to “show the Canadian people that we object to this illegitimate state and to their atrocities and all their war crimes.” The video was recorded outside Congregation B’nai Torah synagogue, and the synagogue and signs touting the UJA walk and street festival are clearly visible.
“Denying Jewish people their right to self-determination, such as through denying Israel’s right to exist, is anti-Semitic,” read the statement from Levitt, Baber and Pasternak. “That the rally organizers chose to film this deplorable video outside a synagogue is deeply troubling, particularly at a time when houses of worship of all faiths are being targeted for acts of violence and hate.”
The three politicians said they have been in contact with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Centre for Israel Affairs (CIJA), which are “actively co-ordinating security with Toronto Police Service (TPS) to ensure that the local community and all Walk With Israel participants will be safe and free from anti-Semitic intimidation and harassment during the walk.
“We are reassured that Toronto Police Service will have considerable resources available to ensure the peace is kept. We will also be asking TPS to document any instances of hate speech or incitement during the rally, so that this information can be passed to the attorney general of Ontario.”
Such protests happen every year and the Federation, together with CIJA, have been working with Toronto police on security for several months, according to a statement put out by UJA Federation. “The best answer to fringe groups who are looking to interrupt our festivities is to participate in this historic 50th Walk With Israel in record numbers. As families and as community, we will respond with peace, unity and joy,” the statement reads.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Canadian Jews, which bills itself as a new advocacy agency, wrote on Facebook that it has asked the Canada Border Services Agency to keep Abbas Hamideh, an alleged supporter of Hamas, out of Canada. The council said Hamideh is slated to come to Toronto to “disrupt” the Walk With Israel.
Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, told The CJN that, “We are not able to comment on whether individuals have been admitted or denied entry at the border, due to privacy reasons.”
The Canada Border Services Agency does not comment on specific cases, CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy told The CJN in an email.
Purdy said several factors are used to determine admissibility into Canada, including involvement in criminal activity, human rights violations, organized crime, security, health or financial reasons.
Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said he is “not at all surprised to see the cynicism of various anti-Israel groups utilizing the Walk (With) Israel as an opportunity to peddle more lies and hatred against Israel and the Jewish people. Supporters of Israel will never be intimidated by such voices, and we trust that the authorities will ensure that any protesters respect the rule of law.”
The Jewish community “has the right to celebrate without the threat of being the target of anti-Semitic messages and threats that have become a staple of anti-Israel protests,” stated Avi Benlolo, the president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Participants of the Walk With Israel and police must be vigilant and report any hate speech that occurs.”
Levitt sounded similar concerns. “This kind of anti-Semitic harassment in our community during a time of celebration is unconscionable,” he said in the joint statement. “The increasingly dangerous atmosphere of anti-Semitism and xenophobia cannot be ignored. We will not be intimidated or silenced from celebrating our heritage.”
Ontario’s government is “working closely” with the City of Toronto “to preserve the safety and well-being being of all affected,” said Baber in the joint statement, while Pasternak promised that the city “will do everything in its power to protect the right of peaceful assembly for the Jewish community.”
Toronto police “are aware of the protests and will deploy officers where necessary. However, we do not share our operational plans with the public,” TPS spokesperson Kevin Masterman told The CJN.
According to B’nai Brith Canada, in addition to Hamideh, Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a spokesperson for the anti-Zionist fringe group Neturei Karta, has also been invited to the so-called “Walk Against Israel” on May 20.
Hamideh and Weiss have publicly voiced support for Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which Canada lists as terror groups, B’nai Brith said on May 15.