Tempers flared intermittently at a solidarity rally for Israel near Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto on Oct. 25.
Waving Israeli and Canadian flags and signs printed with slogans like “Free Israel from terror,” several hundred people gathered on the northeast corner of Yonge and Dundas streets for around two hours in the afternoon. Israeli music blasted from a speaker.
At various points throughout the rally, a few different passersby, both in cars and on foot, entered into brief, verbal altercations with pro-Israel demonstrators, and a few were asked to leave by police officers supervising the event, which was hosted by the group ICA – Israelis in Canada Association and supported by the Canadian Shaare Zedek Hospital Foundation.
A man shouting, “Free Palestine” while sticking part of his body outside the passenger side of a window in a car driving by the protest, was told by a police officer that he wasn’t allowed to lean so far out of the window. Witnessing the police approach his car, the crowd of pro-Israel protesters erupted in cheers.
At several different points, people passing by near the southeast corner of the busy downtown intersection got involved in screaming matches with a few of the pro-Israel demonstrators who’d scattered onto that side.
A man wearing orange, with a few NDP buttons pinned to his clothing, became extremely agitated while arguing with a few of the pro-Israel ralliers, and was asked to leave by police officers. He complied.
A young woman approached the small group on the southeast side and began volleying emotional barbs related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a man wearing what appeared to be an Israel Defence Forces uniform.
The uniformed man asked her repeatedly if she was Muslim, to which she responded that she was.
He then shouted at her, “We believe in HaShem. He’s real. You believe in Allah – he’s fake.”
A woman waiting to cross Yonge Street from the southeast to the southwest side, screamed at someone holding an Israeli flag near her to, “stop touching [her] with the flag” because it was “dripping with blood.”
According to an online invitation for the event that was circulated several days earlier by a group called Israelis in Toronto, the purpose of the demonstration, which was open to anyone in the community who wanted to attend, was to, “stand with Israel in defending the human right of the Jews to live peacefully in their homeland.”
Gila Yefet – who, along with Yasmin Lasry, was one of the co-organizers of the rally – moved from Israel to Canada at age 12 and hosts a television show called Together with Gila Yefet on the network Ethnic Channels Group. She told The CJN that this was the first time in Toronto that Israelis had spearheaded an event of this nature for Israel and that “no one else had done anything.”
She explained that she had publicized the event on Facebook and had called on “all [her] Israeli friends – everyone she knew…including the Jewish Defence League [JDL]” to attend that and “they answered my call when I asked for help.”
When asked if the rally was inspired by the recent surge of violence in Israel, which has included stabbing attacks against Jewish Israelis, Yefet said, “I’m always inspired. My family has been affected by terrorism. My aunt was murdered in the first intifadah. This is nothing new to us [Israelis]…We can’t sit silently. We have to do something. We can’t stay silent while they murder us.”
Yefet also noted that Israelis living in Toronto have become much more united in the past several years – something she credits in part to the formation of a group called Israelis in Canada Association, the mission of which, its website reads, is “to build a caring and active Israeli-Canadian community in Canada, in order to preserve our identity and culture for our next generation.”
At the rally, Yefet proclaimed that now is the time for supporters of Israel to unite. She also stressed that the demonstration was organized by and for Israelis.
Meir Weinstein, national chairman of the JDL, told the crowd, “The Prime Minister of Israel has said many times that it’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. Iran’s intentions are to develop a nuclear bomb to try to destroy Israel and use their proxies to rain terror on the Jewish people. Our message must be loud and clear that we are not like the [Jews] of 1938. They were silent. Today, when we hear of people in Israel stabbing Jews, spreading terror and saying that it’s OK to stab Jews anywhere in the world.”
He added: “This is a worldwide crisis and our message has to be loud and clear that we say never again…We have to defend ourselves, unify and love our brothers and sisters…the Jewish people have to be strong. We’ll defeat this terror.”