• By: Dan McCarthy

Rallies for Palestine Fail to Win Hearts and Minds

In December, I attended the rally for the Jewish People on Parliament Hill and wrote about it here. At that point, Israel’s retaliatory attack on Hamas in the Gaza Strip had been underway for about two months. I readily admit that I am pro-Israel, and while the current suffering of the Palestinian people cannot be denied, Israel has every right to defend itself against the barbarism of the terrorist group Hamas. But I wanted to hear and feel the pro-Palestinian perspective, particularly after an encounter with a Hezbollah/Hamas supporter – yes, they are in Canada – at the Jewish Rally.

After attending three Palestinian rallies, I am dispirited, saddened and frankly angry at what we’re seeing on the streets of Ottawa. What I heard was thinly veiled Jew-hatred, and what I felt was an invective and animus towards Canada I previously thought unimaginable. Shouting down Santa at Bayshore Shopping Centre is one thing; inviting the Intifada to Ottawa is quite another.

“In our million. In our billions, we are all Palestinians.”

Rallies in support of the people of Gaza have been held for the past 13 weeks in downtown Ottawa. We’ve seen large crowds (though smaller as the weeks churn on), a sea of Palestinian flags, a smattering of flags from other dubious actors in the Middle East (Iran, chief among them), joined by professional protest groups such as CUPE, PSAC and new entrants such as Labour for Palestine. I attended three such rallies in recent weeks, culminating with last Sunday’s rally, which started on Parliament Hill, then winding down Wellington Street past the Chateau Laurier to the ByWard Market area.

The rallies are not organic; they are highly organized and integrated into a broader national and, indeed, international web of groups whose tactics are primarily brought to bear on Western governments. A leading organization is the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, which has known links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and was declared a terrorist organization by Canada in 2003. Samidoun incorporated as a federal non-profit organization in early 2021. They raise money in Canada but lack transparency as to where they raise these funds and the activities on which that money is spent.

Further, Samidoun believes that the ‘Palestinian resistance’ – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the aforementioned Popular Front – are entirely legitimate representatives of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood. But darkly, this new entity would not be established side by side in peace with Israel, but would subsume the Jewish state. In October, Germany announced its intention to ban the Network as complicit with terrorism. Canada has been silent to this date.

Marches and rallies in Ottawa are led by the local branch of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM); an organization which also operates across the Western world. Last Sunday’s rally on the hill was one of dozens held over the weekend in Europe, Canada, the United States, and Australia. The PYM – and Samidoun, for that matter – have a social media presence on X, Instagram and Telegram, among other channels, that puts Taylor Swift to shame. This ubiquitous presence cannot come cheaply and is beyond the capability of university and college students burning the midnight oil to post material. Several X posts yesterday claimed to have evidence that PYM was offering to pay people for their time and reimburse other expenses, in order to facilitate participation in Vancouver rallies. Where does the funding come from?

“From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free

At the Sea, Let them breathe”

If I were writing in Germany or Austria, I would be subject to criminal prosecution for putting these words on paper. In Austria, the phrase is an “incitement to or endorsement of terrorist activities.”

Let’s be clear about what these words mean. The citizens of Israel, who live in most of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, enjoy the benefits of living in a free, democratic, tolerant, multi-racial and multicultural state with a population of nine million; two million of whom are Arab and enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. The protestors are essentially calling for the complete destruction of the Jewish state, and a land free of Jews. The true meaning is crystal clear. And equivocations of, “Well, actually, I’m not anti-Jew; I’m anti-Zionist,” don’t cut it.

“Israel, Israel, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide

“Trudeau, Trudeau, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”

The legal definition of genocide was developed in the aftermath of World War 2, and has a very specific meaning. Mass murder was not new, but the scale, efficiency, and singular focus on the annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe cried out for new language. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in 1941, a year or so before the “Final Solution” was enacted by the Nazis, that “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” In addition to the Holocaust, the United Nations has recognized the following events as genocides: Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s; the Bosnian genocide perpetrated by Serb forces in 1995; and the Rwandan massacres of April 1994.

In a world awash in cruelty, it is instructive that the UN — not known for its warmth towards Israel — has not yet designated conflicts between Israel and a number of terror organizations a ‘genocide.’ Former Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella wrote compellingly on this issue in the Globe and Mail this week, with reference to South Africa’s recent application to the International Court of Justice to force Israel “to stop committing acts of genocide in Gaza.” Demolishing South Africa’s legal case, Abella writes, “As a lawyer, I find it shameful; as a Jew, I find it heartbreaking; and as a child of Holocaust survivors, I find it unconscionable.” Former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler states that the application, “inverts reality and subverts the rules-based international order.” Yet, in Ottawa, on Sunday, people waved signs thanking South Africa. Canada under Justin Trudeau, has predictably, remained silent.

A ray of humanity at Sunday’s rally came from a pediatrician from London, Ontario of Palestinian descent, who has just returned from working in hospitals in Gaza, and spoke of his father who recently died at age 80. It wasn’t clear whether he died as a result of the fighting or had other medical issues. His pain was evident, though, as he spoke of his father’s death and the dire conditions in the hospital as staff exhausted supplies of medicine and, equipment and materials. But then the kicker, “Israel bombed the hospital. Those that attacked hospitals are the terrorists.” Chants of “two, four, six, eight, Israel is a terror state” animated the crowd. No recognition or seeming awareness, that virtually every hospital, school, mosque in Gaza has been shown to be a Hamas control centre or weapons depot.

“Brick by brick, wall by wall, apartheid will fall”

The rallies I attended and the online rhetoric I’ve reluctantly consumed are largely devoid of facts, history and morality.

The massacres of October 7th either didn’t happen, though they were gleefully recorded and celebrated in the streets of Gaza. Stating Israel is an “apartheid state” ignores the two million Arabs that live in Israel, many of whom serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. It also ignores the population demographic that is not just ‘European whites’ but includes the Druze, the Bedouin, the Beta Israel from Ethiopia, along with Mountain Jews from the Caucasus’, and Jews from India. The historical perspective given at the rallies ignores the times that Yasser Arafat and other Arab leaders walked away from peace deals that would have created a Palestinian state. This perspective labels Israelis as colonizers, and occupiers. Moses wouldn’t have thought so as he parted the Red Sea to escape bondage in Egypt.

The lack of morality is most evident in the support for Hamas and similar ilk as legitimate representatives of Palestinian aspirations. Israel is not going to unilaterally put down their weapons, or declare a ceasefire to an enemy that has vowed to repeat October 7th, again and again.

So, the marches will continue, streets and bridges will be closed, Bylaw will (hopefully) continue to issue tickets, downtown businesses will suffer, seniors on skating rinks will continue to be harassed, and the vast majority of Canadians will lament, “what has happened to our country?”