Jewish groups condemn remarks at Gaza rallies
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 15, 2009 7:48AM EST
TORONTO - Protesters at rallies in Toronto and Montreal condemning Israel's military actions in Gaza engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric so vile that the organizers of those demonstrations must unequivocally denounce the remarks, prominent Canadian Jewish groups said Wednesday.
The Canadian Jewish Congress, along with a representative from the Canada-Israel Committee, held a news conference to show video clips and photographs of the rallies that they said should "shock all Canadians."
The material will be handed over to local police and RCMP to determine if they violate hate legislation, the congress said.
Although the lead organizations behind the so-called pro-Hamas rallies were called on to denounce the rhetoric, one organizer said it goes without saying that they do not support racism, and focusing on the comments of a few people among thousands is just distracting the public from the real issue.
The video, mostly pulled together from clips available on YouTube, shows groups of people and individuals at the rallies uttering statements such as "This is going to wipe you off the planet," burning the Israeli flag and holding signs comparing Israel to Nazis.
"We have the right to be offensive in this country," said congress CEO Bernie Farber.
"(But) we're talking about vile, disgusting, hateful rhetoric of the kind that should be absolutely frightening to Canadians.
"We all understand the need for civil discourse, as well as for civil debate and for civil protest. This goes well beyond the pale of civil protest - this goes into the area of incitement and hate."
The organizers of the rallies, including Palestine House, the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Union of Public Employees' Ontario branch, should publicly condemn the remarks, the Jewish groups said.
"Unless those organizations denounce and distance themselves from this kind of language, the effect implicitly for the people doing this kind of chanting will be that they may feel unfortunately that that behaviour is somehow acceptable in Canada," said Sara Saber-Freedman, executive vice-president of the Canada-Israel Committee.
Mohamed Boudjenane, the executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation, said it should go without saying that his group doesn't condone racist and hateful statements.
"What are we going to say?" Boudjenane said.
"Are we going to say, 'We're sorry there's some weirdos there screaming hateful messages?'
"We always distance ourselves. We don't even have to say it. We're not there to promote hateful messages against the Jewish community. Not at all."
Individuals on both sides at protests shout inappropriate remarks, and the pro-Israeli demonstrators are guilty of it too, Boudjenane said.
"We also have images and video of those people," he said.
"We can use that, if that's the type of game they want to play. But that's not conducive to any kind of meaningful dialogue between communities."
Activist Judy Rebick, who is Jewish, said it's not realistic to hold protest organizers responsible for the actions of thousands of people.
"If there are some anti-Semitic individuals in a demonstration of 10,000 people ... that's not controllable," she said.
Rebick made the comments Wednesday at a Toronto event urging Ottawa to rethink its position on the Gaza conflict.
Canada was the sole member of the UN Human Rights Council to vote Monday against a resolution condemning Israel's actions.
Canadian representative Marius Grinius said before the vote that the resolution used language that was "unnecessary, unhelpful and inflammatory," and did not recognize the rocket fire on Israel that led to the current conflict.
Years of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel prompted the country to launch an air and ground onslaught against Hamas nearly three weeks ago.
More than 1,000 Palestinians have died in the conflict, according to Palestinian hospital officials.
Thirteen Israelis have also been killed, four of them by rocket fire from Gaza.