This year’s Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto, held on April 30 outside the city’s University Avenue courthouse, was not as hateful or antisemitic as many concerned organizations and advocates feared it would be, based on past iterations of the event.
The day before the event, Toronto police chief James Ramer held a press conference to address the large number of protests that were planned for the weekend in the city, and specifically mentioned the upcoming Al-Quds Day rally. Ramer said the police would be taking extra steps to monitor the event and ensure it remained peaceful and lawful, and would arrest anyone who crossed the line into criminality.
Al-Quds Day, held on the last Friday of Ramadan, was first started in 1979 by Iran as a way to promote the Palestinian cause and oppose Zionism and Israel. In the past, the Toronto rallies have had antisemitic rhetoric and images, and occasionally led to clashes between attendees at the rally and counter-protesters.
After the event, Constable Laura Brabant, Media Relations Officer for the Toronto Police Service (TPS), confirmed over email that no arrests were made and no cautions were issued at the rally for any criminal offences, including hate crimes. She said it was a lawful protest, and that the group was cooperative and peaceful.
According to a press release from B’nai Brith Canada published on May 2, participants in the rally shouted slogans such as “Long live the Intifada!” and “We heed your call, oh Nasrallah!” referring to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Noah Shack, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), credited Ramer’s message with proactively helping to keep the peace by setting the expectations for the protest’s participants. Shack said that although antisemitism and falsehoods about Israel were still present, there was nothing approaching the vitriol and level of hate promotion that had been seen in the past, such as dehumanizing language and calls for violence against Zionists and Jews.
CIJA is still reviewing videos and images from the event to see if they can unearth any criminal activity. One thing Shack did notice is that it seemed like members or organizers of the rally were making more of an effort to control its tone. For example, in reviewing the footage from the rally, Shack said CIJA had not yet identified any Hezbollah flags, which had been flown liberally in past rallies. All that being said, Shack still wants to focus on why the rally is occurring in the first place.
“I’m glad that it wasn’t as bad as it’s been in years past, but that doesn’t take away from just how bad it actually still was. I think that there’s still a lot that’s concerning about this protest and demonstration. I’m glad that it didn’t include the kind of vitriolic calls for violence that we’ve seen in the past, or the dehumanization at levels that we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “But by no means was this a benign rally, and its very purpose is a call for the destruction of Israel. That’s something that obviously concerns our community, and is deeply problematic. The more you demonize an entire society, you dehumanize its population, and if you dehumanize the population, it makes violence against it okay.”
In their press release, B’nai Brith Canada called on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to examine the charitable status of mosques that helped facilitate the rally by busing participants to the rally location. Of the five mosques that were used as pick-up locations, four operate as registered charities, and B’nai Brith has complained about three of them in the past, the press release said.
“The ongoing impunity for religious charities that breach the conditions of their charitable status is unacceptable and against public policy,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada said in the press release. “Canadian taxpayers must not be forced to subsidize the promotion of hatred against Jews or Israelis and glorifying acts of terrorism, via our charities system.”