This week, a Toronto resident was seen resolutely ripping down posters of Israelis who've been abducted into Gaza that were hung on poles in one of the city's neighborhoods where many Jews live. One of the neighbors who was shocked by the act recorded the woman with her mobile phone, but the former was not at all concerned about it.
"Are you going to post this and embarrass me?" she asked defiantly. The video is shocking due to the woman's determination to get rid of the pictures of the hostages and such insensitivity. It happened one block away from my house, in the heart of a quiet neighborhood with many synagogues and Jewish institutions. And of course, it happens in other places. Also in Downtown Toronto, where the University of Toronto is located, the same posters were defaced, and pictures of Palestinians from Gaza were pasted on them.
The feelings of security and serenity that characterize Toronto's Jews in everyday life have been undermined since the outbreak of the Gaza war. Although the Kosher bakery sells cookies with the Israeli flag on top as an act of solidarity, and in all Jewish institutions across Canada flags have been lowered to half-staff, the Jewish community follows with much concern about what is happening in Israel and Gaza, horrified by the growing Canadian attitude against Israel, immersed in rising anti-Semitism.
The pro-Israel sentiment in Canada that was apparent in the first days after the massacre in the south of Israel is changing these days. The pro-Palestinian protests are sweeping Canada in many cities, and hateful looks are emanating from the marchers holding Palestinian flags. Rallies in support of Gaza are also held from time to time on university campuses. Jewish students refrain from expressing their support for Israel, are afraid to show their Jewish identity, and conceal their Star of David necklaces. Police cars are parked near the Jewish schools and shopping centers in the neighborhoods. This presence of security people could increase safety on the one hand, but could also intensify the sense of threat, on the other hand.
This is the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, which comprises about 400,000 people, and it is far from sitting back and doing nothing. Large rallies of solidarity with the hostages were held in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and other communities. The rally in Montreal, which has a significant Muslim population, comprised more than 7,000 participants. Pro-Arab presence is shown also in small cities. In Windsor, located on the border with Detroit and where a quarter of the population is of Arab origin, lives a small and elderly Jewish community. There, too, the Jews watched quite a few pro-Palestinian protests and rallies.
When I asked young Jews in Toronto why we see more of a pro-Palestinian presence on the streets, they honestly answered: "We are afraid. They know that no Jew will harm or hurt a protester. But we do not feel that this is the case in our demonstrations. Although Canada restricts the carrying of guns, you can hit, with your hands or with sticks."
A delegation comprising the hostages' families caused great excitement at a conference attended by 3,000 members of the Jewish community in Toronto and was also embraced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, at the same time, the CBC, the Canadian broadcasting corporation, that is funded by taxpayers' money, refrained from calling Hamas a terrorist organization and from calling those who engaged in the brutal massacre - "terrorists." All protests directed at Canadian TV and radio have been so far to no avail. "We don't want to take part and make a public statement," explained the news director, as if there were two sides to the news coverage equation - for and against terror.
The war in Gaza has drawn Canadian Jews into a complex and challenging reality as they are filled with concern for families and friends in Israel, wishing to express support for the country. Despite the geographical distance, the tensions in the Middle East affect them greatly. In the first weeks of the war, Canadian Jewry raised more than 72 million dollars in support of Israel. A significant portion of the amount is intended to help restore the Israeli settlements around the Gaza border, and part of it is intended for the Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror (the signatory of this article is the Jewish Agency Regional Director to Canada), which assists the community which was affected by a major event but their ability to control it is negligible or non-existent.
It's unbelievable how much the war affects life from a distance of a 12-hour flight. The many Israelis living in Canada are, as expected, 'glued' to the television screens and the news coming from Israel. The Jews follow what is happening with bated breath, fear, and hope. The war in Gaza raises a variety of challenges and confrontations. During these difficult weeks, Canadian Jews try to combine the continuation of their daily lives with the social and human effort to help and participate in Israel's struggles. Uncompromising solidarity is not just donations, it is much more than that. And this is happening in a country that is beginning to be skeptical given the reports coming from the Gaza Strip.
- Yaron Deckel is The Jewish Agency Regional Director of Canada
First published: 23:20, 11.05.23