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Protesters gather outside an Indigo store in Toronto, on Nov. 30, 2023. The demonstration, organized by the group "Jews Say No to Genocide," gathered outside the bookstore chain owned by Heather Reisman, was partly in response to arrests made on Nov. 10 after the store was vandalized with red paint and had posters plastered on its window, claiming the Jewish founder of the company is 'funding genocide.'Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Police and public officials have been remarkably tolerant of the demonstrators who have periodically occupied Avenue Road at Highway 401 in Toronto to protest the Israeli government’s attacks in Gaza against Hamas.

They weren’t protesting in front of the Israeli consulate, some nine kilometres to the south, or at a familiar gathering place such as Nathan Phillips Square at City Hall. They chose to make themselves seen and heard in a prominent Jewish-Canadian neighbourhood.

This is not protest. This is intimidation.

There is a video circulating on X, the former Twitter, in which a woman at what appears to be the Avenue Road protest tells Jews to “go back to Poland, go back to Russia, go back to Ukraine.” Others offer similar remarks. This is not free speech. This is hate speech.

Someone vandalized and set fire to a Jewish delicatessen in Toronto on Wednesday. This is not just a crime. This is a hate crime.

This is not who we are, public figures like to say when Jewish Canadians are subjected to acts of hatred. But this is what we are becoming. By tolerating the envelope-pushers, such as those who have occupied the Avenue Road site, we encourage those wishing to go even farther and commit serious crimes.

Everyone – every police official, every public servant, every one of us – must push back. If we don’t, antisemitism will further entrench itself in our society.

The good news is that the attack on International Delicatessen Foods has prompted just such a reaction.

“I’ve been a criminal investigator the vast majority of my career, and in most of those criminal investigations, there was a tipping point. This is this tipping point,” Staff Superintendent Pauline Gray, speaking for the Toronto Police Service, said of the attack.

“This is not graffiti on a bus shelter. This is not lawful protest protected by constitutional right. This is a criminal act. It is violent, it is targeted, it is organized, and it will receive the weight of the Toronto Police Service to exactly what it deserves,” she added.

But this crime did not emerge out of a vacuum. Actions in the wake of Hamas’s brutal Oct. 7 attacks on innocent Israeli citizens laid the groundwork.

Toronto city officials and police should make it clear to the Avenue Road protesters that their demonstration must move elsewhere. Protests that seek to make Jewish-Canadian residents feel insecure and fearful in their own neighbourhoods are not an attack on a government or a state. They are an attack on a people. This is rank antisemitism that opens the door to more extreme acts.

Toronto police report that there were 98 hate crimes in Canada’s largest city between last Oct. 7 and Dec. 17, more than twice as many as in the previous year. Fifty-six of those hate crimes, more than half, were antisemitic.

And while the violence in Israel and Gaza is clearly behind this spike, Statistics Canada reports that hate crimes have been on the rise for years.

Many Canadians struggle to find balance in assessing the grim events of the past three months in the Middle East.

But one thing is beyond debate: Jewish Canadians should not be targets for vitriol and violence because of events in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Anti-Zionist demonstrations in or near Jewish neighbourhoods are, in their own way, acts of vitriol. And they accompany other, similar, acts.

Protesters demonstrate in front of and deface Jewish-owned businesses, as though such acts do not encourage others to go farther.

In Victoria, the management of the Belfry Theatre cancelled a play that explores the morality of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, after rowdy protests that culminated in the theatre being vandalized.

Jewish students and faculty report that they feel fearful and intimidated on college campuses.

This cannot stand. Supporters of the Palestinian people have every right to express their views and to protest actions by Israel, but they have no right to intimidate and to threaten people on the street, on campuses, in theatres or in neighbourhoods. To tolerate such misbehaviour is to encourage much worse actions that inevitably follow. Enough.

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