Pro Palestinian protesters say they are being vilified by politicians

Pro-Palestinian protesters say they are being vilified by politicians

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

Published at 9:39 p.m.


Alessia Passafiume The Canadian Press

The event, which was also scheduled to be attended by 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 to about 400 participants during the protest and there were no arrests, but the investigation is ongoing.

Dalia Awwad, an organizer with the group known as the Palestinian Youth Movement, accused elected officials of deliberately defaming protesters 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,” Ms Awwad said on Monday.

This is an attempt, she continued, “to make these protests a problem, when the problem is the role that the Canadian state is playing 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 United Nations' highest court.

The federal Liberals have said they believe in the International Court of Justice as an institution and that Israel must do its utmost 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 bombed Hamas-controlled Palestinian areas and, according to Gaza's health ministry, 30,000 Palestinians have died in a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Protests have occurred frequently across Canada in recent months. Jewish and Muslim groups warn of an increase in hateful behavior as police report an increase in hate crimes.

During Saturday's protests in Toronto, demonstrators blocked the entrances to the art gallery, preventing many visitors from entering. Neither Mr. Trudeau nor Ms. Meloni entered the room, which was briefly closed. International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen tried to enter through the main entrance, but protesters blocked his path and followed him for two blocks as he was flanked by police and tried to move to a safer 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. They are involved 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 “wasn’t safe. And that was her 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 won 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 envoy to combat Islamophobia, denounced a “constant rush” to portray pro-Palestinian demonstrations as a threat to public safety.

This 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 submitting to the irrational demands of an uncontrollable and vocal cohort that strengthens their resolve.”

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

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

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

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

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

A protest outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto last month was widely condemned by critics who viewed the location as a conscious decision.

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

“We condemn Canadian politicians who are falsely portraying the protest as anti-hospital,” the groups wrote in a statement.

Zoe Newman, an organizer with Jews Say No to Genocide, was present at Saturday's protest and objected to being labeled anti-Semitic.

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

She argued that this phrase referred to anti-Palestinian racism, which portrays all Palestinians as violent and dangerous.

Ms. Newman pointed out that since pro-Palestinian protests have been labeled anti-Semitic, other protesters appreciated her presence, especially when she wore clothing that clearly showed she was Jewish.

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

“If there is someone there who is Jewish and speaks as a Jew, it can help complicate that narrative. »

With archives from Sonja Puzic