The crowd at this year’s annual Al-Quds Day rally, held in downtown Toronto on June 1, was “much smaller than usual,” according to Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), which said it observed and documented the event.
The rally’s attendance, estimated at several hundred people, was “noticeably lower than last year,” added B’nai Brith Canada.
However, the usual problems persisted, with FSWC describing this and past Al-Quds rallies as a “toxic, anti-Semitic hate-fest” that “brought together radical Islamic protesters who called for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
“For years, Al-Quds Day speakers have spread anti-Semitism thinly guised as anti-Israel criticism, often glorifying violence,” said the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), equating the event with those that promote white supremacy and other bigoted ideas.
In a letter on June 3, Michael Levitt, the Liberal MP for York Centre, said he was “greatly concerned” by this year’s rally, and he condemned “the blatant anti-Semitic incitement towards Jews and Israel that takes place at this event every year.”
Toronto city councillor James Pasternak echoed the sentiment, saying in a statement that he’s “disgusted that the Al-Quds Day hate rally continues to be held.”
“It is truly shocking that this group continues to hold this unpermitted hate rally in our city. An event that in previous years has had speakers supporting the destruction of Israel, denying the Holocaust and making racial slurs has no place anywhere, especially in such a diverse and welcoming city as Toronto,” said Pasternak.
Police reported no arrests, however, B’nai Brith said it is filing a report with authorities over a sign at the rally that alluded to a historical massacre of Jews.
The sign depicted the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem and warned that the “last Khayber is ready,” a reference to the Muslim massacre of the Jews in the Arabian peninsula in 628 CE, B’nai Brith pointed out the next day.
The sign appeared to show a long knife whose blade was papered over but whose handle was still visible.
Posters at the event also prompted a response from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who tweeted, “The use of threatening, anti-Semitic signs at the Toronto Al-Quds Day demonstration is despicable. Such incitement of hatred is unacceptable and has no place in Canada.”
As in previous years, flags of the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the Islamist regime in Iran were also spotted at the rally, B’nai Brith added.
According to FSWC, protesters held pro-Iranian signs “venerating the Ayatollahs, who are the originators of this hateful campaign against the Jewish people and have been accused of sponsoring terrorism and supporting terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Media reports also noted that a young girl carried a placard of a bloodied little girl with the words: “Israel cages two children every day.”
“Once again, it’s also unfortunate to note that Muslim children were used as pawns to promote anti-Semitism, hate and intolerance,” said FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo. “We strongly recommend that authorities, including provincial children aid organizations, investigate the usage of minors for the purpose of incitement of hate.”
Another large banner equated Zionism with ISIS.
Members of the Jewish Defence League of Canada and other pro-Israel counter-protesters were also present, including at least one man identifying himself as a member of the Wolves of Odin, a splinter group of the Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant group based in Finland.
Prior to the rally, FSWC called on Muslim leaders to “rein in this anti-Semitic protest. Many heeded our call.”
Most of this year’s rally took place across the street from the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue. Organizers did not gather at a city park just north of the provincial legislature, as they had since 2015, following a move by Toronto city council, which unanimously passed a dozen resolutions in mid-May aimed at cracking down on hate rallies on its property, with an eye firmly on the Al-Quds event.
The resolutions came after the city’s executive committee turned aside two staff reports on dealing with such rallies. The first was sent back for more work, while the second said the city’s current rules adequately address hate speech on its property, and that it is “legally obligated” to uphold freedom of speech, assembly and association.
The second report added that police have concluded that a speech at last year’s rally, in which a Muslim cleric from Kitchener, Ont., allegedly called for the “eradication” of Israelis, was not a hate crime. B’nai Brith had asked police to investigate.
Past rallies have called for Israelis to be shot, stabbed and bombed on buses.
The city council’s measures encouraged city staff to require permits for protests on municipal property, to refuse permits to any group that advocates hatred or violence, and to issue trespass warnings to such groups that gather without a permit.
Organizers of this year’s rally did not seek a permit. “They refuse to have their speech constrained by a city and province whose leaders have a demonstrated bias in favour of Israel,” their legal counsel, Dimitri Lascaris, wrote on his blog on June 2.
He pointed out that Suzanne Weiss, a Holocaust survivor, and Ken Stone, a peace activist – both of whom are Jewish – addressed this year’s rally.
Meanwhile, York Centre MPP Roman Baber’s Bill 84, a private member’s bill designed to end hate rallies on provincial grounds, passed second reading on April 4 and was referred to the legislature’s standing committee on justice policy.