Watch above: Young Jewish and Arab couples are joining a campaign to show there’s a way to spread love rather than hate. Ross Lord reports.
As the conflict in the Gaza Strip rages on, parallel skirmishes of hate speech and religious attacks are taking place worldwide – Canada included.
Hateful graffiti messages targeting the Jewish and Muslim communities were scrawled in two separate incidents in Thornhill, Ont. this week. Three days after “Arabs go home” was spray-painted outside the Ja’ffari Community Centre, a swastika and an anti-Israeli message were sprayed on a bus shelter.
Police have assigned hate-crime investigators in both cases, but the acts were unsettling for both communities.
In the Paris suburb of Sarcelles last weekend, a protest turned into a violent mob that attacked Jewish-owned businesses, while in Berlin some protesters went so far as to holler “Gas the Jews.”
“It’s associating the actions of a state with a religion and a religious community,” Dr. Robert Daum, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, told Global News. “That’s where this gets ugly.”
He suggested people who want to protest Israel or Hamas take the demonstration to a consulate or official office, rather than mosques or synagogues.
“To focus on Israeli shelling of a beach that killed Palestinian children as a quintessentially Israeli or Jewish act is offensive and racist,” he said. “To focus on Hamas’s rockets at Israeli cities as a quintessentially Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim act, is offensive and racist.”
READ MORE: Calgary’s Jewish and Muslim leaders meet to promote understanding
Avi Benolo, head of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto, wants to know what putting a swastika on a bus shelter has to do with the current crisis.
“If you want to protest against Israel and what is happening in Israel or by Israel, then great. It’s your right to do so.”
Benolo lives in Thornhill, a Toronto-area community with a large Jewish population, not far from where the bus shelter was vandalized.
“As you can imagine, as a parent, you’re dropping your child off to camp in the morning and what do you say to your children when they point out the graffiti that said ‘F Israel’ and had the swastika symbol on it?” he told Global News.
He said the sentiments are borne of “latent form of anti-Semitism in society,” not just the current conflict.
“Israel now serves as the new excuse … for this modern form of anti-Semitism.”
Mohammed Fakih, a Toronto-area businessman originally from Lebanon, said this week’s acts of vandalism in Thornhill also hit home for him — especially as a father.
The “Arabs go home” graffiti outside the Ja’ffari Community Centre reminded him of an incident eight months ago when his son was on the bus to Olive Grove School in Mississauga, a private Islamic school.
Fakih told Global News a woman barged onto the school bus and screamed at the driver, telling him to go back to his country.
Fakih wrote an op-ed in the National Post this week, calling on his neighbours to “should be advocating for peace,” rather than throw hateful sentiments at each other.
“Immigrants come to Canada in search of a better life, to escape this kind of conflict and to leave hateful discourse behind. We are as interested in having a peaceful society,” he wrote.
He said later there needed to be more articles calling for calm, as online discourse he’s seen related to Gaza and Israel have helped fuel hatred directed at the religious or ethnic communities.
READ MORE: Protests held across Canada over Israeli military action in Gaza
Daum finds it troubling that people seem to forget about all other conflicts such as in central Africa or Syria—where 1,700 people died in the past week alone—while focusing all of their attention on the incendiary topic of Israel and Gaza.
“The blood of any civilian who perishes in any conflict is precious,” he said. “… I don’t know how many children have died in how many conflicts around the world and we seem to be only looking at these children and not those children. I think we need to be moving towards a different kind of consciousness.”