Toronto’s pro-Israel activists have claimed a victory of sorts ahead of the city’s annual anti-Israel Al-Quds Day rally. Instead of taking place this year in Queen’s Park, the legislative grounds of the Province of Ontario, the rally will now be held a week early, on July 11, at an alternate location across from the American consulate downtown.
Al-Quds Day is internationally observed annually on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, which this year falls on July 17. The controversial holiday was proclaimed in 1979 by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a religious duty for all Muslims to rally in solidarity against Israel and for the “liberation” of Jerusalem.
At the 2014 rally, which attracted thousands of demonstrators, Syed Mohammad Zaki Baqri of Canada’s Council for Islamic Guidance called Jews, Israelis and Zionism “inhuman.” Local Palestinian leader Elias Hazineh stated, “You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine… We say get out or you are dead. We give them two minutes and then we start shooting. And that’s the only way that they will understand.”
B’nai B’rith Canada, the country’s oldest Jewish rights organization, led a “Stop Al-Quds Day” effort over the past several months to prevent the rally from taking place at the Ontario legislature. The organization ran an information campaign, which included a petition against the event that garnered close to 3,000 signatures.
Al-Quds Day, the petition said, “is an annual event created by the late Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. The hateful nature of this event at Queen’s Park has been well documented since 2009 and there is no reason to believe this year will be any different.”
Launched March 25 and addressed to Legislative Assembly Speaker David Joseph Levac, the petition demanded that Levac “no longer allow hateful rallies promoting propaganda contrary to Canadian values at the seat of government power… With the increasing threat of home-grown radicalization, we cannot allow this anti-Western rhetoric to continue unabated on the grounds of our legislature.”
Upon hearing that the demonstration was banned from Queen’s Park this year, B’nai B’rith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn acknowledged the efforts of Ontario Minister Reza Moridi – an Iranian Canadian and a leading protester against pro-Khomeini events in the province. He also noted that members of the provincial parliament (MPP) Gila Martow and Mike Colle had “worked tirelessly to see a permit for this shameful display of bigotry…denied for this year.”
Still, pro-Israel activists say the battle is not over.
Toronto resident Jon Hammond told The Times of Israel this week that he was disappointed the rally would take place at all, even at an alternative location.
“I am not Jewish, but I fully support Jews living in Canada as well as Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian regime and other[s],” Hammond explained, citing the Palestinian and Lebanese groups that have been battling Israel in recent decades.
“I encourage you, B’nai B’rith Canada, and other Jewish organizations to apply pressure to Mayor John Tory and Toronto’s City Council this week if possible to stop this disgusting anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, pro-Hamas, pro-Hezbollah event from occurring,” he said.
B’nai B’rith spokesman Sam Eskenasi told The Times of Israel that the change in the timing and location was nonetheless “a victory for the community.
“For us, it is important that the rally not take place on the grounds of the legislature so that it not be seen as having legitimacy. Civil society spoke out, and now the rally is not only on a different day, but not at their planned location,” he said.
Martow, a member of Ontario’s Provincial Parliament for Thornhill, the largest Jewish constituency in the province and in Canada in general, told The Times of Israel that the core issue is free speech. She believes that despite the Pan Am games taking place in Toronto this year — cited by fellow MPP Colle as the real reason for the protest’s change of venue — a permit would have been issued for a rally at Queen’s Park if not for the efforts by B’nai B’rith, parliamentarians and others.
“The key message here is that this is finally not just a ‘Jewish issue’ — we are seeing that many other communities are speaking out against those who demonize Jewish people, often through unbalanced criticism of Israel,” said Martow, noting “a huge effort by the Persian community to block Al-Quds.
“What I am hoping is that the police will watch closely for hate speech and terrorist ties via flags and T-shirts,” Martow said.
Pro-Israel activists are also preparing a counter-rally for July 11.
Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Colle urged his followers to “join me in helping to make sure this is made into a permanent prohibition.”
Mostyn, the B’nai B’rith CEO, is already gearing up for next year. After examining the organization’s June 2014 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which recorded a 28 percent increase over the previous year, Mostyn noted that “a clear pattern emerged.
“It has become too easy to deny anti-Semitism, as long as it is reframed under the legitimizing veil of anti-Zionism,” he said. “The yearly Al-Quds Day Rally… is a prime example of individuals who seek to blur the line between Israel and the Jewish people as a whole.”