A call for demonstrations across the Muslim world Friday in support of Palestinians is causing security worries among Jewish organizations in Canada.
Tel Aviv has responded with relentless airstrikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli officials have suggested a ground offensive is imminent, which may escalate the conflict further.
The assault by Hamas – a listed terrorist entity in countries like Canada and the United States – has resulted in worldwide demonstrations by both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators. But Meshaal’s call, which included an ask for neighbouring countries to join in the fight against Israel, is causing security worries in Canada.
“We ask for the community to exercise a heightened degree of healthy vigilance and situational awareness,” the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto said in a security update Wednesday.
“Extra attention should be paid by Jewish institutions to ensuring all security protocols are being followed, particularly regarding access controls and doors that should remain locked.”
What did Meshaal say?
Meshaal, who currently heads Hamas’ diaspora office and is based in Qatar, issued the protest call in a recorded statement sent to Reuters Wednesday.
“(We must) head to the squares and streets of the Arab and Islamic world on Friday,” he said, adding the governments and peoples of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt have a bigger duty to support the Palestinians.
“Tribes of Jordan, sons of Jordan, brothers and sisters of Jordan… This is a moment of truth and the borders are close to you, you all know your responsibility,” Meshaal said.
Jordan, east of Israel, and Lebanon, to the north, are home to the largest number of Palestinian refugees.
“To all scholars who teach jihad… to all who teach and learn, this is a moment for the application (of theories),” Meshaal said.
His rallying call came as Israel vowed to escalate its response to Hamas with a ground offensive, after Israeli fighter jets and airstrikes hit more than 200 targets in Gaza overnight Wednesday.
At least 1,354 people have been killed in Gaza, according to authorities there. Israel has said hundreds of the dead inside Gaza are Hamas members. Tel Aviv pegs its losses around 1,200 people, including 189 soldiers.
After Hamas militants stormed into Israel on Saturday and massacred hundreds of people in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “crush and destroy” the group, which has governed Gaza since 2007.
Israel has mobilized 360,000 reservists, massed additional forces near the region and evacuated tens of thousands of residents from nearby communities.
Hamas, which Israel said kidnapped more than 150 people during its weekend raid, has warned it will kill one of the hostages every time Israel’s military bombs civilian targets in Gaza without warning.
Protest call sparks worry
Meshaal’s protest call has sparked worry among Jewish organizations in Canada. During the Thanksgiving long weekend, several demonstrations occurred across the country in support of Palestinians, which raised concerns from premiers, mayors and law enforcement about how to handle any show of support for Hamas.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed his dismay at an Israeli solidarity rally Monday.
“Let me be very clear. Hamas terrorists aren’t a resistance. They’re not freedom fighters,” he said. “They are terrorists, and no one in Canada should be supporting them, much less celebrating them.”
In response to Meshaal’s protest call, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto said Wednesday it sought guidance with law enforcement partners in Toronto and neighbouring York Region. It said there was no specific threat to the Jewish community in the Greater Toronto Area, but they will be monitoring any concerning information and will share that with police.
Myron Demkiw, chief of the Toronto Police Service (TPS), told reporters Thursday the force has increased patrols in Jewish communities, along with cultural centres, synagogues, mosques, schools and other places of worship across the city.
A spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board deferred to a similar TPS statement made on Wednesday when contacted by Global News Thursday.
“Violence and hateful acts will not be tolerated in the city,” Demkiw said.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said Meshaal’s call is “meant to disrupt everyday life and cause extreme fear, regardless of whether they result in any incidents.”
“CIJA has been in touch with law enforcement across the country to ensure the safety and security of Canada’s Jewish community,” it said.
“We remind all to exercise an increased degree of vigilance.”
Richard Robertson, manager of research at B’nai Brith Canada, told Global News in a statement it is working with Canadian law enforcement to ensure the security and safety of the community.
“There is no place for hatred in Canada. Hamas has demonstrated, since the outset of its barbaric onslaught, that it is a terrorist organization that knows only how to operate in the most hateful and grotesque manner. Their distorted ideology is void of humanism and corrosive of democratic values,” he said.
“Those in Canada who support Hamas, a listed terrorist organization in this country, by answering their call to action on Friday are engaging in conduct detrimental to the sanctity of our nation.”
The Ottawa Police Service said Thursday there was no credible information regarding threats in the city.
“Our intelligence and investigative units continue to work with federal and provincial police and security partners and monitor the local situation. There is no credible information about threats locally, but we remain vigilant,” it said.
“We have increased police patrols and presence in areas of cultural and religious significance, and we will maintain open lines of communication with community leaders.”
Calgary police said in a statement there may be demonstrations in the city, but there is no direct threat to the public.
“With all major planned events and demonstrations, it is standard practice for police to monitor the events, manage public safety, keep the peace and respond to any calls for service accordingly,” it said.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the RCMP said the force is aware of posts circulating on social media with threats against the Jewish community.
“The RCMP has strong relationships with Canada’s security and intelligence community and law enforcement agencies around the world; and, in particular, works closely with our Five Eyes partners to respond to and maintain situational awareness of all threats to national security,” they said.
“Now is the time for increased vigilance. We will not tolerate any form of intimidation, harassment, or harmful targeting of communities or individuals in Canada. Anyone who sees something suspicious or who feels threatened online or in person, should report these incidents to their local police.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters