In response to the recent upsurge in pro-Palestinian activism basically every major Canadian media outlet has published stories about rising anti-Semitism. Many politicians have made statements on the matter and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has called on “our federal government to convene an emergency summit to address growing antisemitism.” B’nai B’rith claims there were more violent anti-Semitic incidents in May than all of last year.
But comparatively little attention has been devoted to anti-Palestinian bigotry despite the publicly verifiable evidence that suggests Palestinian Canadians or those identified with them have faced greater discrimination and violence. And once again, CIJA and B’nai B’rith muddy the waters of understanding racism by conflating criticism and actions against Israel with anti-Semitism.
Let’s take a look at the record over the past few weeks:
- On May 13 a group of Israeli flag waving individuals in Thornhill are on video trying to fight and threatening to “run over” a small group of Palestinian activists. At one-point police pull their guns apparently fearing an Israel supporter was going to hit them with his vehicle in a bid to reach the Palestinians.
- On May 15 a Jewish Defence League (JDL) supporter interviewed prior to the pro-Palestinian rally said he was looking to brawl. He then tells a passerby, “I used to rape guys like you in prison, bro.” Subsequently, a pro-Israel individual is caught on camera swinging a stick wildly at someone. At another point an older JDL-aligned individual is caught on camera with a knife and bat.
- On May 16 a Zionist was photographed with a hammer in his hand at a protest in Montréal. At the same pro-Israel rally an individual rips a Palestinian flag from the man’s hand and the crowd cheers.
- A Palestinian family in Hamilton that put up a sign on their lawn with a Palestinian flag saying: “We support human rights. #FreePalestine #OngoingNakba” had it stolen on May 24 and a note was left saying: “KEEPYOUR POLITICS AND ANTI-SEMITIC RACISM OUT OF MY COUNTRY AND MY NEIGHBOUR-HOOD. IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY COUNTRY, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM!” The theft was not caught on camera but there is a photo of the note and stolen sign.
- On May 25 a recent immigrant from Gaza in Calgary with a Palestinian flag in his rear window films his car being cut off and stopped by a pickup truck. The motorist slams on his window, demanding to fight as he yells “terrorist fuck”, “terrorist ass” and “I have a picture of Mohammed in my car Alah”. He then laughs manically as he rips off the Palestinian Canadian’s windshield wiper.
These instances don’t count individuals — such as a social justice teacher in Toronto put on home assignment, McGill students on a blacklist, a doctor in Toronto smeared and threatened with being fired — for standing up for Palestinian rights. Nor do the above-mentioned examples count anti-Palestinian police racism. In Halifax, Windsor, Calgary, Hamilton and possibly elsewhere the police ticketed dozens of individuals simply for attending Palestine solidarity protests. A report from Windsor suggests — though I have no recorded proof — that cars playing Arabic music were specifically targeted by the police. There’s also a report from Hamilton suggesting that women with Hijabs received eight of 12 tickets given out at a rally.
Before detailing/evaluating the main purported incidents of anti-Semitism it’s important to mention both the discrepancy of resources the two “sides” have to document abuses and their impulse to do so. B’nai B’rith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, CIJA and the Jewish Federations’ operate hotlines to tabulate incidents of anti-Jewishness and have significant capacity to communicate perceived acts of discrimination. They send individuals to video and photograph pro-Palestinian protests with the express purpose of discovering “proof” of anti-Jewish acts.
Not only does the official Israel lobby have greater resources to document perceived abuses and promote them through the media, it has a greater interest in focusing the discussion this way. As Israeli oppression of Palestinians has become ever more difficult to defend, the lobby’s emphasis on driving the discussion towards anti-Semitism has grown. For its part, the pro-Palestinian movement is more focused on discussing the violence meted out against Palestinians.
With that in mind, let’s look at the most high-profile incidents of “anti-Semitism” cited by supporters of Israel:
- After massive Palestine solidarity demonstrations on May 15, a knife and bat wielding JDL aligned individual was beaten up after apparently picking a fight (his photo was actually on the cover — subsequently removed — of a May 16 press release titled “CIJA Concerned by wave of violence and antisemitism connected to conflict in the Middle East”). But, even if CIJA’s showcased victim had not been associated with the violent JDL, swung a bat or held a knife would his beating have been an act of bigotry? When a counter protester fights with someone on the other side is that a political disagreement that elevates to violence or an act of bigotry? (During protests against Israel’s brutal 2014 assault on Gaza that left over 2,100 Palestinians dead, I was shoved, spat on, had my bike damaged and lock stolen by members of the JDL in Toronto. Were those acts of bigotry or would it only have been an act of bigotry if I had punched or spat back?)
- On May 26 Global did a two-minute video report and accompanying article on a Vancouver restaurant owner who claimed to have been a victim of discrimination. Israeli immigrant Ofra Sixto took to Facebook and the nightly news to cry discrimination, but according to credible accounts she was the racist. When a Palestinian solidarity car caravan happened to pass her Denman street restaurant, she yelled some variation of “this is how they are in their countries”, which was heard by a white male, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, walking past and another woman sitting with her family at a cafe next door heard. They objected. The man later left a negative review of Ofra’s Kitchen online saying that the owner was racist. There’s a variety of screenshots and corroborating evidence suggesting the owner instigated the racism while Sixto hasn’t provided any external evidence, screenshots or other proof of her claims. (And it’s also not exactly clear how anyone was supposed to know the restaurant was Jewish owned).
- On May 16 — a day after thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters took over downtown Montréal — a small pro-Israel rally was held downtown. Pro-Palestinian counter protesters reportedly threw objects (rocks according to some) at the pro-Israel group. I could not find video of objects being thrown but there is video of minor scuffles between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian individuals and, as I mentioned above, a photo of a Zionist with a hammer and an individual snagging a Palestinian flag. There is also a great deal of video of the Montréal riot squad trying to disburse Palestine solidarity protesters, which suggests they were treated as the aggressors.
- On May 18 the Montréal municipality of Côte-Saint-Luc, which is heavily Jewish, robocalled all residents to tell them not to be worried about an upsurge of anti-Jewishness (In other words, they frightened people by telling them not to be worried!) Aside from the massive pro-Palestinian demonstration on May 15 and clashes at the May 16 rally, the reason for the robocall was that two men allegedly drove through the municipality yelling anti-Jewish slurs and an Israeli flag flying on a municipal building was removed. I could not find any video evidence of the vehicle though the police detained two individuals.
- In Edmonton Adam Zepp told Global News he was walking out of his parents’ driveway at 9 p.m. on May 16 when a car drove by with young men yelling “Free Palestine”. Forced to loopback due to the neighborhood layout, Zepp says the men subsequently said, “are there any Jews here? Any Jews live here? Where do the Jews live?” There’s no indication Zepp took down the car’s license plate or recorded the incident. In an interview a representative of Edmonton’s Jewish Federation claimed rather vaguely that others also saw a car passing by.
- Another widely cited act of discrimination is a TikTok video of two young Arab women, reportedly students at Laurier University, dancing as they burn an Israeli flag, flush it down the toilet, puke over it and fake stab it. Purported outrage over these students “promoting violence” is extremely cynical. The groups calling this “anti-Semitism” frequently justify Israeli violence and often promote the Israeli military in Canada.
- Many of the lesser incidents presented are placards that in one way or another link Israel to the Nazis. (Of course Nazi comparisons are generally in poor taste, but the Israel lobby regularly invokes the Nazi Holocaust so it’s hypocritical of them to complain about that.)
While all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, must be condemned, readers can judge for themselves who are the primary victims of hatred and discrimination in Israel, as well as here in Canada.