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People take part in a protest and march in Ottawa on Tuesday July 22, 2014, calling for Canada to defend human rights in Palestine. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
People take part in a protest and march in Ottawa on Tuesday July 22, 2014, calling for Canada to defend human rights in Palestine. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Pro-Palestinian protesters criticize Canada’s support for Israel Add to ...

Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair are all being criticized by pro-Palestinian protesters for being too supportive of Israel as the number of dead in the most recent conflict tops 600, the vast majority of them in Gaza.

A crowd of nearly 1,000 people gathered outside the Langevin Block office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper at noon on Tuesday to shout “Shame, shame Harper” and “Canada, choose a side, human rights or Apartheid” before marching off to the Israeli embassy and then on to the headquarters of the Liberals and the NDP.

The Conservative government has been one of Israel’s strongest supporters and has backed the Israelis in the firefight that began more than two weeks ago when rocket attacks from Hamas were met with an Israeli bombardment and then a ground incursion. Multiple speakers at the demonstration on the Ottawa street corner demanded that Canada take a more balanced approach.

“We are against our Canadian blind stand with Israel,” said Burhan Shahrouri, the president of the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians. “We are here to support the people of Gaza. We have a lot of people here who have lost members of their family.”

As the pro-Palestinians mustered their numbers, a small group of pro-Israel counter-protesters gathered a block down Wellington Street, in the path the demonstrators planned to take on their march. Similar protests in other Canadians cities have turned into physical tussles and some Jewish groups have subsequently accused the pro-Palestinian demonstrators of being anti-Semitic.

In Ottawa, however, the police successfully kept the two sides separated by two street widths. And spokesmen and women for the pro-Palestinian crowd stressed that their fight is with the state of Israel, not Jews.

Nadia Abu-Zahra, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who was among those to address the crowd, said “We expressed over and over and over again that this protest does not support anti-Semitism, it stands against anti-Semitism.”

The Tuesday demonstration was about human rights, said Ms. Abu-Zahra. “This is a Canadian protest with Canadian values.”

In fact, although the crowd appeared to be predominantly of Palestinian descent, there were large numbers of non-Palestinians and several members of an Orthodox Jewish group called Neturei Karta which supports the dismantling of the state of Israel.

Martin Sampson, a director of communications for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs who was standing with the pro-Israel demonstrators, said he was concerned by seeing what he thought was a Hamas flag being waved by someone on the other side of the police line. “Hamas is a registered and known terrorist organization, illegal in Canada,” said Mr. Sampson, though he agreed the protest had been generally peaceful.

When the pro-Palestinian demonstrators stopped outside of the Liberal offices, they shouted “Shame, shame Trudeau” and accused the Liberal leader of failing to stand up for the people of Gaza. In a recent statement, Mr. Trudeau said Israel “should be commended for having accepted the ceasefire proposal, and demonstrating its commitment to peace.”

At the NDP offices, a representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers told the crowd he was embarrassed that the pro-union New Democratic Party had been supportive of Israel. But the New Democrats say they take a balanced approach, choosing neither side over the other, and that they have contacted Israeli and Palestinian representatives to urge de-escalation, an immediate ceasefire and protection of civilians.

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