Pro-Palestinian demonstrators say they are slandered by politicians

(Ottawa) Organizers of a pro-Palestinian protest that disrupted a weekend reception featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say they are being unfairly vilified.

The event, which was to include Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, was abruptly canceled when protesters blocked the entrances to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Toronto police said there were no injuries during the protest of about 400 participants and no arrests were made, but investigations are ongoing.

Dalia Awwad, an organizer with the group known as the Palestinian Youth Movement, accused elected officials of intentionally defaming protesters in an effort to avoid speaking about Canada’s position on the war between Israel and Hamas.

“It is also an attempt by politicians to divert the discourse from the role they played in the genocide,” Awwad.

This is an attempt, she continued, “to make these protests the problem when the problem is the role that the Canadian state plays here.”

The Canadian government has not ruled on whether Israel is committing genocide in the Gaza Strip, a case South Africa has argued before the UN’s highest court.

The federal Liberals have said they believe in the International Court of Justice as an institution and that Israel must do what it can to limit civilian casualties, while condemning Hamas for its attack on Israel.

The war began after the October 7 attacks, in which militants killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Since then, Israeli forces have bombarded Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, and Gaza’s health ministry says 30,000 Palestinians have died amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Protests have taken place frequently across Canada in recent months. Jewish and Muslim groups are warning they are seeing a rise in hateful behavior, as police report an increase in hate crimes.

During Saturday’s protest in Toronto, demonstrators blocked the entrances to the art gallery and prevented many attendees from entering. Neither Mr. Trudeau nor Meloni did enter the room, which was briefly closed. International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen attempted to enter through the main entrance, but protesters blocked his path and followed him for two blocks as he was flanked by police and was trying to get to a more secure location.

Some protesters directly confronted Mr. Hussen, saying it was shameful that he called himself a Muslim. “You are complicit in the genocide. Your hands are red. You are complicit in the murder of my family members and friends,” one protester told him.


In a social media post on Sunday, former Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino called the gallery protesters anti-Semitic “thugs.”

The gallery “was not secure. And that was their goal. They don’t want their fellow Canadians to feel safe,” Mr. Mendicino said in a series of messages on X.

“You are breaking the law, you should be arrested, charged and prosecuted. (…) These thugs think they scored a victory last night, but all they did was lose public support and embarrass themselves. It’s time for this madness to stop. »

Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s special representative in charge of combating Islamophobia, denounced a “constant rush” to present pro-Palestinian demonstrations as a threat to public security.

Doing so “is both wrong and dangerous, as are attempts to obscure the facts about why peaceful protests are taking place,” she commented on social media on Monday.

Deborah Lyons, Canada’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism, called the cancellation “a direct result of submission to the irrational demands of an uncontrollable and vocal cohort, fueling their determination.”

Michael DeForge, organizer of the Toronto chapter of Writers Against the War in Palestine, said it was a victory in efforts to secure a change of direction from politicians.

He claimed that Justin Trudeau was “complicit in the deaths of Palestinians.”

Mr. DeForge also described Mme Meloni as a “leading figure of far-right nationalism” and someone who “supported the genocide of the Palestinians.”

Both Giorgia Meloni and Justin Trudeau have advocated for a two-state solution to the conflict, in which an independent Palestinian state would exist alongside Israel.

Italy has also worked together with G7 countries to combat the killing of Palestinian civilians.

A protest outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto last month drew widespread condemnation from critics who viewed the location as a deliberate choice.

In a joint written statement, the three groups that organized the march denied accusations of anti-Semitism.

“We condemn Canadian politicians who are misrepresenting the protest as targeting the hospital,” the groups wrote in a statement.

Zoe Newman, an organizer with Jews Say No to Genocide, was present at Saturday’s protest and took issue with being called anti-Semitic.

“It is very disturbing to see anti-Semitism used in a way that alters and distorts its meaning,” she said in an interview Monday. “Trudeau is meeting with someone whose views are closely linked to anti-Semitism and it is not considered anti-Semitic, but our protest is anti-Semitic. »

She argued that this formulation refers to anti-Palestinian racism that presents all Palestinians as violent and dangerous.

Mme Newman pointed out that since pro-Palestinian protests have been characterized as anti-Semitic, other protesters appreciated her presence, especially when she wears clothing that clearly shows she is Jewish.

“I think that’s an incredibly powerful thing at a protest,” she said. “It can give some people a real sense of security,” especially when criticism of the Israeli government is conflated with criticism of the Jewish people as a whole.

“Having someone there who is Jewish and speaking as a Jew can help complicate that narrative. »

With archives from Sonja Puzic


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