OTTAWA — Federal politicians are raising the alarm about what they say is an increase in antisemitism in Canada after two Jewish institutions in Montreal were hit with firebombs this week.
"I've never seen a time when Jewish Canadians have felt as scared, as angry, as frustrated in a country that we have been part of since before Confederation," Liberal MP Anthony Housefather told reporters Wednesday. The firebombing, which caused minor damage to the front door of the synagogue he attended as a child, "is not something that we can take lightly," he added
As the Israel-Hamas war enters its second month, he called on police to "crack down" on hate speech and crimes. "There is something wrong in this country, where a war in the Middle East has spread into Canada and (is) making Jewish Canadians feel this unsafe," he said.
No one was injured when the Congregation Beth Tikvah synagogue and an office belonging to Jewish advocacy organization Federation CJA, both in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., were struck with incendiary devices in the night between Monday and Tuesday.
The Montreal police department has not yet made any arrests, nor concluded that the apparent attacks constitute a hate crime. But police spokesperson Jean-Pierre Brabant said Wednesday that the force's hate crimes unit is assisting its arson unit in the investigation.
Officials have condemned the firebombing as an expression of antisemitism. "Hate against anyone is a direct threat to Canada's democracy and social cohesion," Amira Elghawaby, the federal government's special representative on combating Islamophobia, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Antisemitism hurts all Canadians."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the firebombing as one example of what he called a "terrifying" increase in antisemitism across the country. "Molotov cocktails thrown at synagogues, horrific threats of violence targeting Jewish businesses, targeting Jewish daycares with hate — this needs to stop," Trudeau implored Wednesday. "This is not who we are as Canadians."
He also recognized an increase in Islamophobia, saying hateful language and acts aimed at Muslims and Palestinians are equally unacceptable.
"If Canada can't figure this out, tell me what corner of the world is going to figure this out," the prime minister said to reporters on Parliament Hill.
Liberal MP Ben Carr said there have been instances of graffiti depicting swastikas and threats against Jewish individuals in his Winnipeg riding. Fear among its large Jewish population has led some households to take "their mezuzahs, their religious symbol that identifies a Jewish home, off of their doors,” he said.
Tensions have risen globally since the outbreak of the current Israel-Hamas war on Oct.7, when a Hamas incursion into Israel killed about 1,400 people, most of them civilians. Israel's retaliatory strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip territory have killed more than 10,500 people, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
Demonstrations in support of Israel and Palestine have taken place throughout Canada.
This week, a speech by imam Adil Charkaoui at a recent pro-Palestine rally in downtown Montreal attracted particular attention. In a video posted to Charkaoui's TikTok account, he is seen leading a prayer in Arabic and calling on God to "take care of aggressor Zionists," adding "O God, don't leave any of them."
Housefather and others have characterized the remark as hate speech. On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault called Charkaoui's comment an "incitement to hatred, to violence." Legault said he's "counting on the police to do their jobs," underlining "it's not up to me to tell (police) how to do their jobs, but inciting hatred is not allowed."
In a Facebook livestream Wednesday, Charkaoui said his prayer has been misconstrued as a call for the death of Jews. He insisted he was specifically calling for an end to violence in Gaza and his remarks were aimed specifically at the Israeli forces carrying out deadly strikes.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2023.
— By Thomas MacDonald in Montreal with files from Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson in Ottawa and The Associated Press.
The Canadian Press