Toronto mayor says raising Israeli flag at City Hall ceremony is ‘divisive’

Click to play video: 'Protests erupt at Israel’s Independence Day flag raising ceremony at Toronto City Hall'
Protests erupt at Israel’s Independence Day flag raising ceremony at Toronto City Hall
WATCH ABOVE: An Israel Independence Day flag raising ceremony at Toronto city hall was met with protests on Tuesday. As Jaden Lee-Lincoln reports, questions are being raised about Mayor Olivia Chow's absence from the event – May 14, 2024

Toronto’s mayor said she decided not to attend a city hall ceremony marking Israel’s national day on Tuesday because an event where the Israeli flag is raised is currently “divisive” due to the conflict in Gaza.

Olivia Chow told reporters it was “pretty clear” the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas had caused deep fissures in the city, citing waves of demonstrations since the violence began on Oct. 7.

“I think it’s a bit divisive because there’s a war going on,” Chow said of the flag raising.

“Emotions are very high and I think it’s important that we hear each other. Be empathetic.”

In a statement earlier this month, Chow acknowledged “the pain and anguish many Torontonians are feeling over the war in Gaza,” and called for an immediate ceasefire and the return of all hostages held by Hamas.

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Chow noted Tuesday that Toronto’s mayor does not decide which flags are flown at city hall events and such requests are approved by the protocol office following public submissions.

She said she also doesn’t typically go to flag-raising ceremonies because they are so frequent.

May 14 marks the anniversary of the day in 1948 when the state of Israel was proclaimed, an event often recognized in ceremonies around the world.

But Israel’s conflict in Gaza has brought added scrutiny to the anniversary this year, including in Ottawa where an Israeli flag was also flying above city hall but there was no public ceremony to mark the occasion after officials raised concern about a risk to public safety.

Palestinians mark the day of Israel’s founding as the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe. It’s an event that is at the core of their national struggle when some 700,000 Palestinians — a majority of the prewar population — fled or were driven from their homes before and during the 1948 war that followed Israel’s establishment.

On Tuesday, there was an Israeli flag-raising event at the Ontario legislature as well.

Solicitor General Michael Kerzner addressed the crowd, as did Stephen Blais from the Liberal Party. A handful of pro-Palestinian protesters showed up and chanted in front of a line of police officers, but the event ended without issue.

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In a statement on Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford – who was at an unrelated event elsewhere in the province – said he was joining the celebrations.

“As we pray for peace in the region, I want to send my best wishes to everyone celebrating Israel’s Independence Day,” he wrote.

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