TORONTO — As the Gaza conflict continued in the Middle East, more than 1,000 pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters faced off on either side of Bloor Street at Avenue Road early Friday evening, waving placards and flags and hurling insults across a sea of Toronto police officers and crowd-control fencing.
On the north side of Bloor, several hundred people gathered outside the Israeli Consulate for a rally organized by the Jewish Defence League (JDL) of Canada, which said on its website that it aimed to “counterbalance the defamatory disinformation being spread by [the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid] and present the truth about the current situation in Israel.”
The pro-Israel side also featured contingents from Israel on Campus, a student group dedicated to celebrating Israeli culture and history, and York Students for Israel, which advocates for Israel on campus.
On their Facebook event page, the student groups said they were there to “rally in solidarity with the families of Gilad, Naftali, Eyal [the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed last month] and Muhammad [Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was beaten and burned to death in an apparent revenge killing July 2], and all Israeli families who have suffered the scourge of terrorism.”
People played Israeli folk music through loudspeakers, waved Israeli, Canadian and JDL flags and held signs bearing slogans such as “Hamas stop the child abuse,” “Pick a side: Hamas or peace and freedom” and “Hamas stop the aggression.”
The pro-Israel groups were there to counter the anti-Israel rally on the south side of Bloor in front of the Royal Ontario Museum, where protesters from the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and Palestine House had gathered to rally against what their Facebook event page called “the ongoing collectivepunishment of Palestinians.”
Organized to support Palestinian human rights and oppose Israeli forces’ killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinian civilians, it was planned to coincide with similar rallies in communities across Canada.
Pro-Palestinian protesters across from the Israeli Consulate
Many participants carried or donned Palestinian flags or those of other Arab countries and chanted slogans such as, “Free, free Palestine.” Many also wielded placards with phrases such as, “This isn’t national defence, this is murder,” “Stop Israel’s terror and Harper’s complicity” and “Stop bombing Gaza.”
By 7:30 p.m., the pro-Palestinian crowd had swelled to more than 1,000 people, while the pro-Israel ralliers had largely dispersed.
Among the former was a group carrying a placard reading “Jews against Israel’s war crimes.”
Cars and the occasional motorcycle draped with Palestinian flags periodically drove by, honking in solidarity with the anti-Israel demonstrators and causing an eruption of cheers.
By about 7:45 p.m., many pro-Palestinian ralliers continued to demonstrate by marching east in a procession along Bloor.