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Jewish Torontonian: ‘Three death threats against me, I’m still scared’

Residents of Canada’s most populous city told JNS that politicians and the police must do more to protect Jews.

Hundreds of Canadians attend a rally calling for the release of children held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Toronto on Nov. 20, 2023. Photo by Doron Horowitz/Flash90.
Hundreds of Canadians attend a rally calling for the release of children held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Toronto on Nov. 20, 2023. Photo by Doron Horowitz/Flash90.

Between January and September of last year, there were an average of 47 monthly hate crimes reported in Toronto. In the next three months—after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7—Toronto police fielded an average of 190 monthly hate crime reports, more than a 300% increase. “Our officers have worked tirelessly to manage 308 demonstrations,” Myron Demkiw, chief of the Toronto Police Service, said on Jan. 11. “Exponentially more than any other city in Canada.”

“Antisemitism continues to account for more reported hate crimes than any other category, making up 37% of all hate crimes reported in 2023,” per Toronto police. “In 2023, there were 132 reported antisemitic hate crimes compared to 65 in 2022.” (Anti-Muslim hate crimes went up from 12 in 2022 to 35 in 2023.)

Many Jews in the Ontario capital feel intimidated, according to Demkiw, who announced that anti-Israel demonstrations will no longer be permitted on the Avenue Road bridge, where they’ve occurred for the past month. “People can expect to be arrested if necessary,” he said. Police previously drew criticism for delivering food and coffee to protesters on the bridge, located near a large Jewish community.

Toronto residents indeed are concerned, and antisemitic incidents are getting more violent and bold by the week, local Jews told JNS.

Inconsistent preaching

Jew-hatred is being given a pass in Canada’s most populous city, according to Amir Epstein, executive director of Tafsik Organization, a newly-launched advocacy organization.

“Disturbingly, pro-Hamas groups venture into Jewish neighborhoods, brandishing inflammatory imagery of Hitler and concealing their identities behind Yasser Arafat keffiyehs. This brazen conduct, amounting to criminal harassment, goes unchecked,” Epstein told JNS. “Those responsible for sanctioning such illegal behavior must be held accountable.”

Chani Jos, of Toronto, told JNS that she wants local leaders and police officers to state matter-of-factly that incidents targeting Jews are outright antisemitism.

Amir Epstein
Amir Epstein, executive director of Tafsik Organization. Credit: Courtesy.

“They’re quiet about a half million Muslims killed by the Syrian regime, 400,000 Yemenis killed in a civil war and Palestinians in Lebanon robbed of basic human rights as a matter of government policy,” Jos said. “They preach ceasefire through one side of their mouths, and the other side say, ‘Intifada revolution,’ ‘Jihad against Zionists’ and ‘Globalize the Intifada.’”

Since the new year, a Jewish-owned grocery store was firebombed and graffitied in Toronto and a man spit upon and yelled antisemitic insults at four Jews in Vaughan, Ontario, near Toronto. Anti-Israel protesters also disrupted Toronto Mayor Oliva Chow at a public ice-skating party. Vandals were also caught on camera slashing the tires of a car with an Israeli flag sticker on its bumper, and windows were smashed at an iconic Jewish bakery, Gryfe’s Bagels.

One Jewish Toronto resident, Yehudi BenSimon, told JNS that political leaders are nowhere to be found or are complacent, compounding the problem.

“I’ve seen silence, platitudes, bluster, limp-wristed responses, boilerplate press releases that are indistinguishable from each other and airy-fairy, wishy-washy, namby-pamby social-media statements that feel like they were written by ChatGPT,” BenSimon, an engineer who freelances for the Toronto Star, told JNS.

Canadian Jewish politician Melissa Lantsman has said that Canada’s public safety minister has yet to respond to her three months after she expressed deep concern about Jew-hatred in the country.

‘I’m scared’

Judy Feld-Carr is a musicologist who has received the Order of Canada, Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction, and honorary U.S. and Canadian doctorates for secretly helping to save thousands of Syrian Jews over three decades.

The temperature of hate in Toronto, where Feld-Carr lives, has affected her, she told JNS. “I’ll tell you. I’m scared,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve had three death threats against me, and I’m still scared.”

On her regular walks downtown, Feld-Carr sees “hate demonstrators screaming and yelling,” impeding people’s movement along sidewalks. She holds unresponsive government officials accountable.

“I am angry. I believe support has to come from the top. It has to come from the prime minister, who I’m afraid is doing nothing,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s not enough police in this city, or if the mayor doesn’t care. But there’s an awful lot of people who don’t care.”

Feld-Carr had harsh thoughts for the Toronto mayor, who didn’t shut down the protest at the ice-skating event. “This is a mayor who’s lost all control,” she said. “She could have demanded the police officers to do their job, and she just stood there and said, ‘OK. This is democracy at work.’”

An anti-Israel sign at a rally in Toronto on Oct. 21, 2023. Credit: Greg Finnegan/Shutterstock.

“Riots are not democracy. Obstruction of somebody skating or somebody walking on a bridge or walking on the sidewalk, it’s not democracy. No,” Feld-Carr said. “You don’t do that in a democratic country.”

As she sees it, Jewish donors should pull their money from Canadian universities, where Jew-hatred is increasing, as their counterparts south of the border are doing.

“There is no organization standing up now that’s fighting back,” Feld-Carr said, clearly exasperated. “There used to be really major Jewish leadership. I don’t think there are any lay leaders that are opening their mouths.”

‘A big problem’

Warren Kinsella, a non-Jewish columnist with Postmedia and author, is writing a book about rising antisemitism after Oct. 7. 

Kinsella, a strong supporter on social media of Israel and Jews, told JNS that he is “shocked by how widespread” Jew-hatred has become “and how bold many of these people have become.”

“I haven’t slept very well. It’s really affected me as a human being a lot,” he told JNS. “We can only imagine what our Jewish friends are feeling. So at a human level, I just, it takes my breath away sometimes how awful it has been.”

“I am completely mystified,” he said. “Toronto’s got a big problem.”

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw
Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw, Jan. 11, 2024. Source: Toronto Police Service.

Kinsella recently broke a story about certain anti-Israel demonstrators being paid to protest. The smoking-gun money trail reveals a much larger web, he told JNS.

“I’ll give them some credit. They are extremely organized in a way they’ve never been before,” he said. “As a political guy, I’ve been around politics for a long time. That, to me, says money in organization and training. I believe that these people are funded and being trained because it looks like a machine.”

A former police reporter in Calgary and Ottawa, Kinsella has heard from “rank and file officers, who are placing themselves at risk,” who tell him they don’t understand why law enforcement leaders are “not being more strategic about this.” Kinsella thinks they should follow New York’s lead and crack down on hate-filled protests.

“You go after them. You don’t wait for them to hurt somebody or commit violence,” he said. “You get them on with whatever you can.”

The mayor didn’t help by sending police the message, at the skating party, that they should not act against protesters, according to Kinsella.

“These people have just blown up your event. They’re shouting curses and threats. Elderly people. People are with their kids,” he said. “She practically enabled them when she said, ‘This is the democratic way.’ It’s not democratic to get in the way of people’s enjoyment of a public space.”

The problem is larger than the mayor, he said. Just two local councilors visited the scene of the Jewish-owned grocery store that was attacked. Kinsella, who worked for former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, told JNS, “There are symbolic things politicians can and should do to reassure citizens.”

“We regard this as a real manifest threat to society, and we’re calling on you to act on it,” he said. He called social-media posts by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “odd” and said it “isn’t cutting it,” and said that statements from Mélanie Joly, Canadian foreign affairs minister, “looked like they were generated by AI.”

A man waves a Palestinian flag during a Dec. 9, 2023 march in Toronto. Credit: Greg Finnegan/Shutterstock.

‘We underestimated our opponent’

In hindsight, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, vice president of the greater Toronto area at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told JNS that the Jewish community didn’t realize that antisemites would be this bold or would organize so effectively and ignore political pressure.

“Perhaps we underestimated our opponent,” she said.

She pushed back against criticism of law enforcement. “The police have been—from Oct. 7 onward—partners and friends to our communities,” she said. On Oct. 7, which was Shabbat and the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the Toronto police chief contacted CIJA “to say that the police were there to protect the Jewish community, no matter what happened,” she said.

“They have really outdone themselves in what they have done to support the community,” including “beefed-up community patrols,” she said. Kirzner-Roberts allows that law enforcement could have been “a little bit more assertive, but I think the police have heard us, and they have committed to doing better.”

Like Kinsella, she has been “very disappointed in political leaders, at all levels, for their soft handling” of “extreme violent language” and “acts of extreme violence.”

“I would have thought that this incident would have garnered a little more reaction from our political leaders,” she said of the grocery-store arson. “That was a breaking point.”

CIJA has formed a legal task force of some 400 lawyers to take on cases of antisemitism. “We have fighters, and we’re not taking any of this lying down,” said Kirzner-Roberts, who remains optimistic.

“Our community is not powerless. Our community is strong. Our community is resilient. Our community has never been more united in its resolve to support one another and to support our Jewish state as it is right now,” she said. “As truly difficult and challenging as the last few months have been, we are strong.”

“This isn’t a moment to feel hopeless or helpless,” she added. “Because it is not.”

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