As the Israeli/Palestinian conflict persists, more protests and rallies are occurring in major Canadian cities. From the #FreePalestine movement emerges inevitable anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions. This past week, protests in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax have turned violent, resulting in injured parties from both sides.
Destruction in the Israeli/Palestine area of conflict increases; at recent count, there were 132 buildings and commercial units destroyed in Gaza. The fighting has killed at least 213 Palestinians, including some children, and between 10 and 12 people in Israel.
In Montreal, violence erupted between Pro-Israel supporters and Pro-Palestine protestors during a rally incited by Hamas firing rockets into Israel on Monday after weeks of building tension. In Calgary, multiple pro-Palestinian protests have drawn hundreds of protestors. Antisemitism has become prevalent at these rallies, demonstrations, and on student university campuses like Ryerson, McGill, and Queens.
Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted: “Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada - but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind.”
We spoke with Daniel Koren, the executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada for a different perspective on the violence at rallies and protests across Canada and the US.
TBT: In Montreal, attacks by Palestine supporters on pro-Israel protestors were compared to pogroms by some civilians. Is this an accurate description of acts happening during these recent protests?
Koren: I truly understand that comparison, yes. For members of the Jewish community, this was akin to nazi rallies and violence seen at other events such as the 1933 Christie Pits Riots. For many members of our community, [pogroms] is certainly an accurate assessment.
At the pro-Palestinian rallies taking place in Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, there were violent incidents at, I believe, each rally. There were Jewish counter-protestors who were attacked, who heard antisemitic epithets, who encountered nazi flags. We are seeing Jews in Canada and America being targeted in the name of anti-Israel activism.
I don’t understand how this is beneficial for the Palestinian people. All this does is lead to the hatred of Jews in these countries. The right to protest is very important, the right to democracy in Canada is important. We understand the rallies taking place - we don’t understand the chants for the destruction of Israel. The destruction of Israel will not lead to peace - you’re talking about the ethnic cleansing of Jews that reside in Israel. It requires a nuanced conversation that we’re not seeing.
How are the Pro-Palestine rallies in Calgary, Edmonton, and other areas harmful to the Jewish population in Canada and the US?
Koren: The vast majority of Canadian Jews are supportive of Israel in the sense that we support its right to exist. This does not negate the experience of Palestinians. For most Jews in Canada, what we see from the other side is not a call for peace, pro-existence, to put down arms and find a sustainable solution; what we see is a call for destruction and the eradication of Jews in Israel. This is what leads to antisemitism. Since the majority of Jews support Israel, when demonizing Jews in Israel, you’re demonizing us.
Jews look at Israel as their homeland…because it is. It doesn’t mean we’re more faithful to it than the countries where we are living, it means we understand this is where we come from. It’s where our language comes from, our tradition, our culture - they all come from this land. The majority of Jews feel strongly about this. Claiming Israel has no right to exist, that is a form of antisemitism.
Jewish students who we work with, when they post Israeli flags, they are not demonizing Palestinians. They are not negating the experience of Palestinians. They are simply speaking to their identity as Jews. We have seen students and individuals attacked for this. There have been incidents of targeted antisemitism on campuses. We’re seeing groups putting out statements omitting the experiences of Jewish students. It doesn’t need to be this way of supporting one people over the other. In Canada, we support all people equally.
TBT: Can you tell me a little about how Hasbara engages young people in positive pro-Israel activities and experiences?
Koren: The Hasbara Fellowships organization has headquarters in Toronto with a sister organization in New York. We work with young people in high schools and post-secondary schools. We train student leaders who can advocate for Israel and combat antisemitism on campuses. There’s a prevalent anti-Israel movement on some campuses. We offer training, webinars so they can be knowledgeable on nuanced and complex issues. We work with fellows who are active on campuses across AB and all over Canada.
To us, Pro-Israel means pro-peace. We encourage our students to be able to have conversations with other students from a nuanced and balanced perspective that doesn’t overlook the experiences of either the Jews or Muslims. The challenges now are that the narrative is incredibly one-sided. When people feel the need to speak out on issues that affect them, I understand that. But speaking about issues that you’re not knowledgeable about … what we see is increased anti-Israel online and increased antisemitism online and in person.
Hasbara shared a message from one of their fellowship students who used this knowledge to encourage peaceful dialogue with a peer: “My friend posted a few anti-Israel memes so I reached out, explained why it was propaganda, and she removed the post! We're having the best conversation now and she keeps thanking me for educating her.”
Koren: Student union associations aren’t always privy to all of the nuances. It’s important to understand both sides of this conflict and understand two narratives. We want students to understand the facts and what’s actually happening. There’s a very complicated history there.
This notion that this is not a conflict is simply untrue. It’s very much a conflict.
The casualties on both sides, here can be placed squarely on Hamas, who has incited this war, terrorism, and violence. Hamas sees opportunities to fan the flames of hatred and incite violence and gain sympathy from the international community - even if it means for their own people to die. The fatalities are a PR win for Hamas. Unfortunately, the entire international media is now playing into their hands.
The Hamas charter calls for genocide of every single Jew. Hamas wants [them] dead. To find sustainable peace is not obtainable with Hamas at this moment. Until they revise their charter and revise their call for the murder of Jews and anyone who supports them… there will not be peace.
Koren also wished to share that Hasbara is not only a Jewish organization. They offer training to Jewish and Non-Jewish students.
Koren: Right now is a critical time in our history and a critical time for Jewish Canadians. For anyone who is experiencing antisemitism or seeing their Jewish friends being targeted by antisemitism, I truly encourage you to reach out to hasbara Canada staff. We can affect change on a grassroots level. We can educate others to be objective and do their research. Don’t fall into a one-sided narrative. Support Israel and Palestinians equally, that’s what we’re about.