Israel-Hamas ceasefire has not ended Montreal Jewish community’s security concerns

Pro-Palestinian protests in Montreal, May 16, 2021 (Credit: Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)

Montreal police assure the Jewish community they are taking its concerns seriously after numerous online threats and hateful posts on social media have been recorded.

 In a May 20 statement, the police department said it is “well aware of the threats now circulating against the Jewish community” and has stepped up patrols in such areas as Côte des Neiges and Outremont, as well as Côte St. Luc.

 Two men arrested in Côte St. Luc on May 17 following citizens’ complaints that they were uttering verbal threats against the Jewish community have been charged.

The specific counts they face and their identities have not been released. “That isn’t public for the time being,” Peter Subissati, associate director of communications for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said on May 21.

The suspects, aged 19 and 20, who allegedly yelled at passersby while driving around Côte St. Luc, were apprehended at around 6:35 p.m. at the intersection of Kildare Road and Westminster Avenue. Montreal police said at the time the incident would be investigated as a possible hate crime.

While pleased with the police’s swift action, CIJA, the advocacy arm of Federation CJA, continues to be alarmed by the proliferation on social media of hateful posts directed at the Jewish community during the Israel-Hamas conflict. They spiked in the wake of the violent disruption of an Israel solidarity rally held downtown on May 16 when participants were physically and verbally assaulted.

The Federation and CIJA have also documented online posts threatening members of the Jewish community.

Ysabella Hazan, a 21-year-old law student, says she received numerous frightening messages after she posted a photo on Instagram of herself holding an Israeli flag at the May 16 rally. One she shared reads: “I hope that you will die after being raped by your own kind Zionist terrorist bitch…”

The Jewish organizations provided examples of social media posts vowing to go after Jews where they live. A Snapchat clip sees a man apparently riding in a vehicle boasting, “We are going to Côte St. Luc, that’s where all the Jews are.”

An Instagram post warns: “Côte St. Luc is full of Israelis, every flag of Israel should be replaced by a Palestinian flag, every Israeli who is hiding should receive insults, every Israeli in front of us should be broken. We are going to their neighbourhood to show them they can’t win and that we will piss on them.”

Meanwhile, members of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount were bracing for another possible anti-Israel protest on May 22 outside the Israeli consulate in Westmount Square, where thousands held a demonstration on May 15. The synagogue’s security has been increased and members are encouraged to exercise caution and not engage with any demonstrators.

Rabbi Adam Scheier, who spoke at the May 16 pro-Israel rally, told congregants, “Personally, the verbal abuse with which I was targeted last Shabbat while walking through Westmount and then on Sunday at the downtown pro-Israel rally was unprecedented in my 17 years of living in Montreal.”  The hostility toward the Jewish community “only serves to confirm that which we’ve known for many years: there is little difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish racism.”

This week an Israeli flag put up by Côte St. Luc went missing on the median of Cavendish Boulevard. The city has replaced it.

Côte St. Luc council passed a motion that it and “residents of all faiths, languages, cultures, and backgrounds stand with the Jewish community…

“We call on our fellow municipal leaders to join us in denouncing this attempted intimidation of our fellow citizens. We must rise to the occasion and, in one voice, reaffirm our Canadian and Quebec values of equality, respect, and safety.”

In reference to what happened at the May 16 pro-Israel rally that necessitated the intervention of the riot squad, the statement continues, “Those who throw rocks at Quebecers, shout slurs at Quebecers, and attempt to intimidate Quebecers are violating the norms and the laws of our society. If Canada is to continue to be Canada, leaders from all areas must forcefully call out such ugly behaviour.”

Independent Jewish Voices, which held a press conference outside the Israeli consulate on May 17 demanding that Canada impose sanctions on Israel, downplays anti-Semitism as a motivation. Spokesperson Aaron Lakoff denounced the “alleged anti-Semitic threats in Montreal,” but emphasized that “the vast majority of those protesting Israel’s actions aren’t doing so out of hatred of the Jewish people, but out of love for human rights and justice.”

In another development, the president of the Montreal North borough’s youth council has been dismissed for hateful and racist comments about Jews and for his altercation with police at the May 16 rally.

Zakaria Zaki Rouaghi, 28, is identified as one of the leaders of the counter-protesters there who rallied Muslims to join in on his Instagram page. After being ousted from the advisory body, he denied he is racist but continued to rail against “criminal Zionists” online.

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