IN-DEPTH: Who Is Behind the Anti-Israel Rallies and What’s Their Goal?

by EditorL

Pro-Palestine protesters march along Bay Street in downtown Toronto on Oct. 9, 2023. (Andrew Chen/The Epoch Times)

Canada and other countries have seen a steady stream of protests against Israel and in support of Palestine since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war. Groups of various ideological mantles have been driving the movement, calling for the destruction of Israel and saying Canada is complicit in “genocide.”
Pro-Palestinian, leftist, and student groups are organizing actions, sometimes jointly, and use social media to announce events and share their messages.
A 30-year veteran of Canada’s intelligence community sees the scale and regularity of the protests as emerging from a combination of simmering discontent and skilled organizing.
“The vast majority of people who are behind these demonstrations or those participating are just really [angry] people,” said Phil Gurksi, who now heads Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. He says some of that anger is being driven by disinformation.
For example, Hamas had claimed that Israel bombed a hospital in Gaza City, killing hundreds, but Canada and other countries later saidthe explosion was caused by an errant rocket fired from within the Gaza Strip.
“I do think there’s no question that there are elements tied to extremist groups that are milking [the conflict] at the same time, and probably contributing—whether it’s organizationally or financially or whatever,” Mr. Gurski said.
“They’re taking advantage of this thing, … [saying] this is our chance to make a difference in how Canadians see this particular issue.”
The rallies seek to raise awareness as well as apply political pressure on the government to support a ceasefire or a break from Israel, he said.
Mr. Gurski, an expert in Islamist extremism, worries that the current situation is fuelling antisemitism and that it could spark violence within Canada.
As the Israel Defence Forces continue targeting Hamas and pushing into Gaza, increasing Palestinian casualties, Mr. Gurski says it will pour more oil on the fire.
“There’s going to be a handful of people that say, ‘I can’t take this anymore. I can’t stand idly by while Jews are killing Muslims, so I’m going to target Jews in Canada.’”

The Organizers

The rhetoric coming from the groups opposing Israel is high-pitched, with some saying Canada is complicit in “genocide” for supporting Israel and not advocating for a ceasefire.

Other groups have openly celebrated the Oct. 7 Hamas attack as a watershed moment for the “resistance.”
The Vancouver chapter of Samidoun praised the Hamas attack in an article posted on the organization’s website titled “Palestine: The Resistance Rises Toward Revolution, Return and Liberation.” Samidoun describes itself as “an international network of organizers and activists working to build solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in their struggle for freedom.”
The article states that “the resistance is rising throughout occupied Palestine, smashing the siege on Gaza with a comprehensive offensive confronting the occupier by land and air, taking control of Palestinian land, seizing occupation settlers and soldiers and launching thousands of missiles as Palestinian resistance forces fight to advance return and the liberation of Palestine.”
Hamas launched thousands of rockets against Israel on Oct. 7 while commandos infiltrated using motorized paragliders and by breaching the security fence. Israeli authorities say 1,400 people were killed and over 200 hostages taken that day.
Israel has responded by launching air and artillery strikes against the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, and ground operations have started in recent days. Hamas’s health officials have put the death tollat over 9,000.
The government of Israel says Samidoun “has a wide network of ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization.” PFLP seeks the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a communist government in Palestine, and multiple terrorist attacks are attributed to it, according to Public Safety Canada, which also lists it as a terrorist organization.
Samidoun has chapters in a number of countries. In Canada, it is registered as a federal not-for-profit corporation.
Shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Germany announced that it would ban Samidoun given it was celebrating “terror.” The ban came into force in early November.
Jewish advocacy groups have asked Ottawa to act against Samidoun in recent years. B’nai Brith Canada wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May 2022 asking for the deportation of the organization’s leaders and the dissolution of its not-for-profit status. The Epoch Times contacted Public Safety Canada for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has requested that Samidoun be added to the list of terrorist entities.
The Epoch Times contacted Samidoun for comment but didn’t hear back by publication time. The organization has promoted Palestine support rallies on social media, and its logo is attached to protest posters for events in Vancouver organized with other groups.

Palestinian Youth Movement

The logo of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) is placed alongside that of Samidoun on posters announcing protests in Vancouver.

The PYM also participated in the organization of protests in Toronto and Ottawa. Its Oct. 29 protest in Toronto called for an end to the “genocide” in Gaza.
The group is active in organizing protests in Canada and the United States and describes itself as a “transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians dedicated to the liberation of our homeland and people.”
A post on its website commemorates the death of senior PFLP leader Ghassan Kanafani, who was reportedly killed by Israel in Lebanon in 1972.
A PYM post on X about the blast at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on Oct. 17 said the “Zionist Regime has intentionally targeted” the hospital.
Israel, the United States, France, and Canada have said the blast was likely the result of an errant rocket fired from Gaza.
The PYM did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the post, its activities, and its affiliations.
CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel says he is concerned about the PYM as it and its members “regularly glorify and celebrate violence and terror.” Members of the group support armed resistance, and PYM hascelebrated Palestinian attackers on social media.
“The fact that we now see hundreds of people in the streets rallying in support of Hamas’ barbarity is no surprise since these groups have operated without impunity,” Mr. Fogel told The Epoch Times in a statement by email.

Social Media Organizing

Two groups in Toronto and Montreal are involved in organizing protests via social media. Toronto4Palestine and Montreal4Palestinetogether have more than 39,000 followers on Instagram.

Toronto4Palestine was involved in the organization of a protest in downtown Toronto on Oct. 28 as well as other actions.
Its protest at the Jewish-owned Cafe Landwer in Toronto and its call for a boycott have caught the attention of several federal MPs.
“My wife & I picked a business in my riding targeted for being Jewish-owned,” Independent MP Kevin Vuong wrote on social media on Oct. 27 in response to criticism for visiting the cafe.
A day prior, Toronto4Palestine had targeted Mr. Vuong in a videoposted on X, saying “Shame on you for supporting this Zionist establishment, Kevin.”
“The call to boycotting this establishment is driven by our deep concern about the illegal settlements in occupied Jerusalem, Palestine.”
Cafe Landwer is an international chain headquartered in Israel whose founder identifies as a former member of the Israeli special forces, something Toronto4Palestine takes offence to.


Other groups not led by Palestinians have also been involved in organizing protests against Israel or broadcasting propaganda for the cause.

The group Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) has promoted sit-ins at the offices of MPs and participated in protests to urge the government to request a ceasefire.
The group did not unequivocally condemn the Hamas attack and lays the blame on Israel.
“The civilian deaths caused by the Hamas offensive are an unacceptable consequence of 75 years of unacceptable conditions, part of an attack that is neither unprovoked nor justifiable,” IJV said in an Oct. 8 statement. “Israel needs to be held accountable for its decades of crimes against humanity.”
IJV describes itself as “grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine.” It did not return a request for comment.
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is another group focused on criticizing the actions of the Israeli and Canadian governments in response to the Hamas attack.
Its president, Thomas Woodley, has called Israel’s ground offensive a “failure of Canadian diplomacy.”
The group says that by sending special forces to Israel, Canada “appears to be implicating itself in genocide and crimes against humanity.” It has not returned a request for comment.
CJPME has organized a campaign to put pressure on MPs to request a ceasefire.
The Liberal government so far has said Israel has the right to defend itself according to international law. It has also called for a humanitarian truce to allow aid to enter Gaza and for civilians to leave, but it has not called for a ceasefire.
Defence Minister Bill Blair said in late October that Hamas must be “eliminated.”

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