Flagrant antisemitism at a rally attended by leading politicians has been ignored because the targets of the racist attack stood with the oppressed in Israel.
At United Jewish Appeal Toronto’s May 29 Walk with Israel a group of Israel flag-waving individuals crossed the street to berate a half dozen Hasidic Jews holding a Palestinian flag. One woman waves a small Israeli flag at them yelling “shame on you” and “you’re a shame on Jewish people”. Another Zionist says, “Hitler made a big mistake, you should have been in the gas chambers. Too bad. We’re here and you’re gonna go to hell.” She states repeatedly, “Hitler made a big mistake, you should have been in the gas chambers.”
The non-Zionists remain calm in the face of the harassment and eventually the police push the Israel supporters away.
Imagine the uproar if video emerged of identifiably Jewish individuals harassed in a similar way at a Palestine solidarity rally. Making the silence more noteworthy, the rally was attended by Liberal cabinet minister Marco Mendicino, Conservative party leadership front runner Pierre Poilievre, Toronto Mayor John Tory and other politicians.
If NDP or Green MPs tweeted about attending a pro-Palestinian rally in which video subsequently emerged of Jews being repeatedly told “Hitler made a big mistake, you should have been in the gas chambers” the MP, party leader and others would be pressed to condemn the remarks.
I emailed Mendicino, Poilievre and Tory’s offices to ask for a comment on the incident. I also contacted B’nai B’rith, Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) about the incident and emailed B’nai B’rith’s anti hate hotline. None of them responded or publicly mentioned the harassment.
Soon after the Walk With Israel, Toronto activist Paul Salvatori tagged his MP, Ya’ara Saks, with video of the harassment at the rally. Saks, who attended the Walk With Israel, ignored Salvatori. While she was indifferent to the abuse hurled at the Hasidim, Saks posted a thread to Twitter two weeks later claiming she was the victim of “hate” when young people yelled “stop supporting killing of Palestinians”. A self-described “unapologetic Zionist”, Saks’ claim that she and other identifiably Jewish individuals were yelled at was re-tweeted by all the main Israel lobby groups and many prominent figures in the anti-Palestinian movement. It was also reported on by a number of Jewish media outlets. Even pro-Palestinian voices such as former Ontario MPP Rima Berns‑McGown and NDP MPs Matthew Green and Heather McPherson expressed their solidarity with Saks by quote tweeting her thinly veiled attack on Palestine solidarity. As I detailed here, Saks has repeatedly linked Canadian Jewry to Israel yet when a pro-Palestinian teenager crassly applies the same logic it becomes “hate”.
This is a common Zionist double standard. Conflate Canadian Jewry with Israel when it serves your purposes but complain bitterly if others do the same in a way you don’t like.
Contrasting the wide circulation of Saks’ (evidence free) claim with the general indifference to the harassment faced by non-Zionist Hasidim (caught on video) highlights the Israel lobby’s grip over popular outrage regarding antisemitism. When CIJA, B’nai B’rith and associates ignore incidents of antisemitism few become aware of them.
This is troubling since those the Israel lobby considers unworthy victims deserve solidarity. But there’s a broader question at play as well. The harassment transpired at an event organized by a group the Palestine solidarity movement should be actively seeking to discredit. Irrespective of the harassment targeting the Hasidic activists, the Walk With Israel was a racist affair organized by the leading funder of anti-Palestinian activism in the country. The woman who declared “you should have been in the gas chambers” offered a great opportunity to discredit United Jewish Appeal on their own (anti-Palestinian) terms.
Anyone who supports Palestinian rights should be working to undermine UJA Toronto. They raise significant funds for Israel, are CIJA’s patron and have promoted recruitment for the Israeli military. A month ago UJA chair Linda Frum claimed those who blamed Israel for the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh engaged in a “blood libel” and “antisemitic double standard”. (The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Associated Press, Bellingcat, Al Haq, B’Tselem, Palestinian Authority and UN Human Rights Office have all conducted investigations concluding the IDF was responsible for Abu Akleh’s killing.)
Jewish progressives should lead the charge to discredit UJA. But with the notable exception of Rabbi David Mivasair, left-wing Jewish activists largely failed to raise the harassment at the Walk With Israel. Independent Jewish Voices, Winchevsky Centre, New Israel Fund of Canada, Canadians for Peace Now, JSpace (not to mention the Bernie Farber chaired Canadian Anti-Hate Network) have yet to mention the antisemitic incident on their twitter. Overwhelmingly those who retweeted and boosted the video of the harassment were Arab-Canadians.
The lack of reaction to the harassment faced by non-Zionist Hasidim highlights the extent to which the Israel lobby determines outrage at antisemitism. It also demonstrates how little interest there is in standing up to the Israel lobby.
While the Israel lobby is often ruthless, the Palestinian side is generally tepid. Israel lobby groups regularly attack Palestine solidarity for people saying far less than “you should have been in the gas chambers”.
When an individual at an Israel lobby event is caught on video telling pro-Palestinian Jews that Hitler should have killed them, we must denounce those responsible and embarrass the politicians who refuse to condemn the despicable act.