A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who was beaten by pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the May 15 rally in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square now says it was a mistake to attend.
Video widely shared on social media shows Greg (Zvi) Nisan, 64, of Thornhill, receiving blows from sticks to his upper body and head as he tried to leave the raucous protest.
Nisan took himself to hospital, where he received seven staples and seven stitches to close wounds to his head. He told The CJN the following day that he was feeling “okay.”
Police made two arrests resulting from the protest. Hamza Alkiswany, 22, of Thornhill, is charged with assault, and Connor Campbell, 29, of Toronto, is charged with bringing a weapon to a public meeting.
Police said the attacks against Nisan are being “actively investigated.” They’re asking the public to contact 52 Division with any information, including images or videos.
Nisan, who came to Canada from Israel 25 years ago and now owns a transport company, said he went to Nathan Phillips Square with about 50 friends and acquaintances.
“We played Israeli music,” he said. “We were dancing, having fun.”
After some teenagers who were with him expressed fear, Nisan said he approached police. “I said, ‘Listen, this is getting out of hand. We have to leave.’”
He said pro-Palestinian attendees began throwing plastic and glass bottles, as well as knives, into the crowd.
Nisan said he asked police to escort his group out. He said he then sat in his truck when he saw a man wearing a black-and-yellow Jewish Defense League T-shirt being attacked.
He said he went to help the victim when he himself was attacked. “I pushed some guys. I tried to stop them. But they started hitting me so I started hitting back.” One image circulating on social media shows a man who appears to be Nisan about to swing a bat with one arm.
Shocking videos showed Nisan, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, running on a side street, swarmed by about five attackers who beat him with long wooden sticks, including one holding a Palestinian flag. Two of his assailants are seen wearing keffiyehs, black-and-white checkered scarves, across their lower faces.
Police estimated about 5,000 people attended the rally. The vast majority were demonstrating in solidarity with the Palestinians’ plight through Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and a smaller group demonstrating against rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas.
Asked whether he regretted going to the protest, Nisan said, “I think it’s a big mistake. We shouldn’t go there. We shouldn’t interrupt their (event). They can do whatever they want. I didn’t go there to fight. We went to talk.”
Mayor John Tory, in a statement, said “hate, anti-Semitism and violence have no place in our city. Any violence against our city’s Jewish community, or members of any other community in Toronto, is absolutely unacceptable.”
Tory said he’s been in touch with Toronto Police Chief James Ramer and sent him a video “of a particularly disturbing incident.” The mayor asked to be kept informed.
At 9 p.m. on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a condemnation of the violence that took place in similar protests across the country.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto jointly issued a statement condemning “in the strongest terms these brazen acts of assault, intimidation, and hate targeting members of Toronto’s Jewish community and supporters of Israel.” The CJN is monitoring this and related stories and will issue updates as needed.