It was the battle of the bullhorns and loudspeakers. Outside B’nai Brith Canada’s headquarters in Toronto, pro- and anti-Israel demonstrators squared off on opposite sides of the street, separated by a line of police officers, and for two hours, hurled slogans and invective at each other – with each side trying to outdo the other in sheer volume.
The Aug. 29 rally to oppose B’nai Brith’s “smear campaign” against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) drew about 75 pro-Palestinian protesters and some 200 members of the Jewish community and other supporters of Israel.
The normally quiet, residential neighbourhood in North York was the scene of a raucous afternoon, as the two camps traded insults, with each accusing the other of being racists and war criminals. Police continuously had to corral members of each side from straying too close to the other. The anger was palpable.
The rally was triggered when B’nai Brith alleged that the Palestinian Postal Service Workers’ Union (PPSWU), with which CUPW had entered into a joint project, had supported terrorism and “the elimination of Israel.”
Supporters of CUPW hastily organized the protest, charging that B’nai Brith had smeared the union and that the Jewish advocacy group has a long track record of silencing critics of Israel. At first, CUPW said the rally was not under its auspices, but later said it supported the protest and called for members of its Toronto local to attend.
Among the pro-Palestinian contingent was one man waving the flag of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. About halfway through the protest, a school bus arrived carrying hijab-clad women and girls.
They accused Israel of being an “apartheid” and “terrorist” nation and pledged a future Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.”
On the pro-Israel side, one man wore a jacket emblazoned with the double-axe logo of the Northern Guard, a nationalist, anti-immigrant group. Many pro-Israel protesters came out at the behest of the Jewish Defence League of Canada and wore the group’s distinctive “Never Again” T-shirts. There was no shortage of Israeli and Canadian flags and cries of “deliver the mail!”
They also accused the pro-Palestinians of standing on the private property of homeowners in the Jewish neighbourhood.
They’re harassing us in our own community.
– James Pasternak
At one point, JDL leader Meir Weinstein boldly strode over to the other side, only to be restrained by supporters and police.
B’nai Brith cancelled its seniors’ program on the day of the rally.
That demonstrators “travelled to demonize Israel at a Jewish community centre, in the heart of a Jewish residential neighbourhood in Toronto, shows how far these provocateurs have already crossed the line,” the organization noted.
It said that several current and former Jewish members of CUPW have contacted B’nai Brith in recent weeks “to share their frustrations about what they described as unacceptable and inappropriate political and targeted anti-Israel policies from their union’s leadership.”
In a statement, Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called the rally “A failed attempt at intimidation by a hateful group of protesters who boasted of ‘taking it to their neighbourhood.’ It is absolutely unacceptable that these tactics are being used to sow discord between communities in our city.”
Politicians also denounced the anti-Israel group’s targeting of a residential, heavily Jewish part of Toronto.
York Centre MP Michael Levitt said he was “deeply concerned that the Bathurst Manor community was targeted, disrupting the neighbourhood, closing an important community institution and cancelling programs for seniors and Holocaust survivors.”
The building is home to a synagogue, a daycare centre, a pregnancy care centre and various other community services. It is no place for a hateful protest.
– Roman Baber
The local MPP, Roman Baber, denounced the “hatred and fear” spread in “a small residential neighbourhood of north Toronto. B’nai Brith Canada and its building … serves families, seniors and Holocaust survivors. The building is home to a synagogue, a daycare centre, a pregnancy care centre and various other community services. It is no place for a hateful protest.”
Present at the rally was Toronto Ward 10 Coun. James Pasternak. “They’re harassing us in our own community,” he told The CJN.
Indeed, the pro-Palestinian camp ended the rally with one member saying, “We took it to their neighbourhood,” and pledging that protests will take place on the same spot on the last Wednesday of every August.