Pro-Palestinians, pro-Israelis clash on Canada Day at kosher stores

The pro-Palestinian protestors had gone to the plaza to confront the former leader of the Canadian JDL.

Police officers stand in line to separate protesters supporting Palestine from a small group of Israel supporters in front of city hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 15, 2021. (photo credit: CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS)
Police officers stand in line to separate protesters supporting Palestine from a small group of Israel supporters in front of city hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 15, 2021.
(photo credit: CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS)

Canadian supporters of Israel and the Palestinians clashed in the Thornhill suburb of Toronto on Friday in front of a shopping plaza with mainly Kosher stores.

According to Melissa Lantsman, a member of Parliament representing Thornhill, pro-Palestinian protesters had gathered at the plaza and harassed Jewish shoppers. Video shared by the MP showed protesters waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans in front of the shops.

“Protesters screaming ‘free Palestine,’ yelling antisemitic slurs and intimidating Jews in Thornhill outside a plaza of mainly kosher establishments,” Lantsman tweeted. “This is not anti-Zionism – it’s a blatant act of antisemitic hate which must be condemned by everyone. You don’t come to a Jewish neighborhood and yell anti-Semitic tropes if it isn’t about hating Jews.”

"You don't come to a Jewish neighborhood and yell anti-Semitic tropes if it isn’t about hating Jews."

MP Melissa Lantsman

One video shared by the NGO Stop Antisemitism showed pro-Palestinian protesters shouting, “Shabbat shalom b*****s.”

"This occurred during a peaceful protest by pro-Palestinians in response to serious threats made by FBI-designated terrorist organization, the JDL [Jewish Defense League] towards the Muslim community."

Aliya Hasan

Accusations of Islamophobia and threats

Aliya Hasan, leader of the group that led the protests, Canadian Defenders for Human Rights (CD4HR), shared videos on her Instagram page. The pro-Palestinian protesters had been threatened and cussed at with Islamophobic comments by shoppers and shopkeepers, she said. They said Lantsman was lying about the confrontation.

“This occurred during a peaceful protest by pro-Palestinians in response to serious threats made by FBI-designated terrorist organization, the JDL [Jewish Defense League] towards the Muslim community,” Hasan wrote.

In the videos, one man threatened that he would find them and took pictures of their license plates. A shop owner called the pro-Palestinian protesters “terrorists.” One man involved in the incident was alleged to be Meir Weinstein, a former leader of JDL Canada.

The police intervened in the heated shouting matches and arrested one of the pro-Palestinian activists.

"We are grateful for the quick and diligent response of York Regional Police for keeping our community safe," said Noah Shack, vice president of GTA Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

Seeking an enemy

The group had gone to the plaza after learning through social media that Weinstein was there, Firas al Najim, who joined the protests, said Saturday in an Instagram video.

According to CD4HR, Weinstein had threatened to protest the 2022 Muslim Association of Canada Convention, which was being held from July 1-3. MAC had invited several speakers who had previously expressed pro-terrorist and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Weinstein said he had been monitoring and exposing the speakers.

The protesters said in a post they had gone to the Enercare Centre to counter-protest, but Weinstein’s group had never arrived. CD4HR posted a video taunting Weinstein’s Israel Now group, prior to their alleged pursuit of Weinstein almost 20 kilometers away at the Chabad Gate plaza.

Weinstein disputed CD4HR's account of the events, telling The Jerusalem Post that he had only gone to the plaza in response to the protest.
"This group from the conference started shouting antisemitism at the Jewish shoppers," said Weinstein. "I received several phone calls about this, so I decided to go to this plaza.  And I witnessed vile antisemitism from these conference supporters."
"An anti-Israel group travelled more than an hour north from the MAC Conference to the Chabad Gate Plaza in Thornhill, where they accosted Jewish shoppers, intimidating, and harassing them as they prepared for Shabbat," said Shack.

The shop that was the focus of the protestors, Taste of Israel, has reportedly been targeted before.

The backlash to the protest

“You don’t come to a Jewish neighborhood and yell antisemitic tropes if it isn’t about hating Jews,” Lantsman said.

July 1 was Canada Day, the national holiday of Canada, and fell on Friday, when Jews prepare for Shabbat.

“Jewish Canadians have been in this country since 1760,” MP Anthony Housefather tweeted. “We are incredibly proud Canadians and Canada Day is our national holiday. To do something like this on Canada Day is especially offensive.”

“The protesters targeted a plaza containing mostly kosher businesses as Jewish shoppers prepared for Shabbat,” said B’nai Brith Canada.

The JDL, founded by Meir Kahane, was recognized by the FBI as a terrorist organization. Sources familiar with the Canadian branch assert that it has not been designated a terrorist group.

CD4HR was one of the groups involved in a rally in April in which participants praised terrorist rocket attacks against Israel. Hasan made several remarks in support of terrorism and called for the destruction of Israel.

Hasan and CD4HR did not respond to requests for comment on Friday’s incident.