String of Ottawa events linked to antisemitism alarms local Jewish community

A close-up of an Ottawa Police officer’s badge is seen on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Ottawa. A string of events in Ottawa linked to antisemitism is creating alarm in the Jewish community. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. fajw/TXB

OTTAWA — A string of events in Ottawa linked to antisemitism is creating alarm among Jewish people in the capital city, with a community leader saying the Israel-Hamas conflict is exposing hatred that has existed for years.

An Ottawa woman is facing charges, including attempted arson to endanger life and damage property, after gasoline was poured in the clinical area of the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital last week.

There were messages left nearby that police described as related to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip, although they said they did not believe the incident was motivated by hate.

In another case, a man was charged with hate-motivated offences after an Ottawa rabbi reported being threatened over the phone.

Idan Scher told CBC News that the man ranted about how the Jewish community supports Israel and argued they should be killed.

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Another man was charged with assault and criminal harassment in connection to an altercation at a gas station in the Kanata area of Ottawa, which police said involved antisemitic statements.

Earlier this week, CTV News reported that someone broke into and damaged a flower shop that is a well-known supplier for Jewish synagogues and establishments.

Police said the store has close ties to the Jewish community, though it is not clear whether the incident was hate-motivated.

“’All of these incidents are certainly disturbing for people. They raise the level of anxiety for sure,” said Sarah Beutel, interim CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.

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She said people are worried about sending their children to a school at the federation’s main campus, and seniors and employees at a nearby long-term care home are concerned. The threats have led to a constant police presence in the area, which Beutel said is also anxiety-inducing.

She also said the Jewish community is not letting the anxiety get in the way of their daily lives. She said more people are taking part in community events and religious services.

“There is a strong desire now when people are feeling the effects of what’s happening across the world, in Israel and here at home ? for people to seek out community, wanting to be together,” said Beutel. “So while its raised the level of anxiety, people are not cowering in fear.”

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Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said he’s heard of people keeping their children home from school and fearing being close to pro-Palestinian rallies.

“It’s not right. Everybody should feel safe in their home (and) in their country,” he said.

Mostyn said many people criticizing the state of Israel and the conflict have directed their anger and blame toward their Jewish neighbours.

Beutel said hatred toward the Jewish community has been building for years in Canada “at alarming rates.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said more Jewish communities will be targeted “sooner or later.”

“(Police) just don’t have the capacity to deal with it,” Fogel said in an interview Friday. “Things that were one regarded as outrageous and unacceptable have now become much more normalized, and we have to recalibrate our response to it.”

There were 306 antisemitic hate crimes reported in Canada in 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

That figure has continued to grow, rising to 331 in 2020, 487 in 2021 and 502 in 2022.

Jewish people have consistently been the most-targeted religious group for hate crimes in Canada during that time period.

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“In recent weeks, we have seen a deeply troubling rise in acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia in Canada. These hateful acts have caused pain and anxiety to our loved ones, friends, neighbours and communities and are unacceptable,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Justice Minister Arif Virani said in a statement Friday.

A Jewish high-school in Toronto was evacuated Friday after a bomb threat.

In Montreal, a string of three incidents in a one-week period left people on edge. In two cases, gunshots were fired at Jewish schools and in the third, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he is disturbed by “Canadians lashing out in anger” against each other amid an “intensity of the emotions” during the conflict.

“Whether it’s a woman in a hijab getting spat on, or a Jewish kid going to a college campus (who) is not feeling safe, or gunshots fired at Jewish schools, or a terrifying rise in Islamophobia alongside the significant rise and very troublesome rise in antisemitism, we are not a country where Canadians should be scared of other Canadians,” he said.

— With files from Stephanie Taylor

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