Doorstep Postings: The state of official reactions in Toronto to the diminishing protests on Al-Quds Day—with the added backdrop of a mayoral race

A sign spotted at the Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto on April 15, 2023. (Credit: @CanadianFSWC)

This is the second 2023 Toronto mayoral byelection race edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Al-Quds Day, the annual festival of rage directed at the Jewish state and of often not-so-subtle antisemitism, has continued its slow and steady decline in Toronto—with a decreasing amount of attention in its aftermath.

It was in 2015 that the staff at Queen’s Park finally decided that hosting an event which featured calls for Jews to be shot and where Israelis were labelled as less than human on their front lawn was a bridge too far. The crowds have gotten smaller and the promotion of violence and hate gotten less overt.

But then, as typically the case here in Canada, all it takes for a visible drop-off of attention is the removal of tacit support of the ruling class.

Despite the recent storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount by Israeli forces—not to mention widespread protests against Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to modify Israel’s justice system by preventing the Supreme Court from removing a prime minister from office—the crowd was reportedly limited to a few hundred protesters.

(Israel has also been subject to barrages of rockets in the past few weeks, with over 30 projectiles being fired from Lebanon.)

Rally attendees were still heard chanting lines like, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, Israel has got to fall,” and a sign equating the Star of David—not the Israeli flag—to a red swastika was photographed. The crowd also voiced support for violent uprising against Israel, calling out, “Long live the Intifada” and “Intifada, intifada.”

Nonetheless, compared to previous years, the event drew muted responses from Jewish groups and elected officials.

A year ago, Al-Quds Day was preceded by a press release from Toronto Police Services—which also held a press conference before the event—and was followed by statements from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith.

This time around, after his organization demanded that the “hateful display” be condemned, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center head Michael Levitt amplified the message with emphatic capital letters:

CIJA’s social media response focused specifically on one sign:

Thornhill MP Melissa Lantsman also tweeted about the event:

But this rally also had a different political backdrop in Toronto: a mayoral race featuring candidates reacting to images that made the rounds:

“Everyone has the right to protest, but there is no place for hate in our city,” stated Brad Bradford on social media. “As mayor, I will stand strongly against all forms of discrimination and incitement towards violence.”

Mark Saunders, the former police chief who’s pivoted to politics, went into a bit more detail with his messaging: “Year after year, the Jewish community in Toronto is the most targeted group for hate crimes in our city. I continue to stand with the Jewish community against any demonstration of antisemitism or hate.

“Canadians have a right to protest peacefully, but I will never tolerate hate-motivated criminal behaviour from such demonstrations. We must never normalize hate crimes, hate speech, or hate signage in this city.”

Meanwhile, candidate Ana Bailão put her own perspective on the record:

Anthony Furey, a journalist turned aspiring mayor, responded the harshest statement of all: “I am a big advocate of freedom of speech and, of course, the right to protest—whatever the cause. But there is no denying that antisemitism is on the rise in Canada and as mayor my stance will be to unequivocally denounce and confront any such incidents of hate that occur in the city.“

City councillor James Pasternak, who hopes a debate on Jewish community issues can be part of the campaign to replace John Tory, also released a statement of his own:

“This event violates numerous City of Toronto bylaws including our anti-discrimination policy, the City Events Policy, the provincial Highway Traffic Act and other statutes,” the statement read. “It is time the city enforces its Anti-Hate Rallies policy so we can be a city of respect, tolerance and free of hate.”

Representatives for presumptive frontrunner Josh Matlow did not respond to requests for comment.

Olivia Chow’s campaign also did not respond on the day that she entered this increasingly crowded Toronto mayoral race—which The Canadian Jewish News will continue to cover in this space, leading up to the byelection on June 26.

 Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.