In 1960, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker wrote that he was “A free Canadian, free to speak without fear…free to stand for what [he] think[s] right, free to oppose what [he] believe[s] wrong…” Over 50 years later, another Canadian, Samantha Hamilton, wrote in her victim impact statement, “I have never felt fear like the fear I experienced that day…[the] pain I suffered is still with me…I’m living in fear to the point [that] I no longer wear my Star of David.”
On July 18th, 2014, Hamilton and her family were brutally attacked by a mob of protesters when they arrived at an anti-Israel demonstration to express their support for Israel. Of the approximately 800 protesters, at least 15 ran across the street to the Hamiltons where they shrieked at the family, shoved their signs and flags in their faces, chanting, “Hitler was right,” “Death to the Jews,” and “Zionist pigs.” They spat at the Hamiltons, bit, kicked, and punched them, ripped the clothes from their bodies, and tore the signs from their hands.
In a moment of profound horror Jacob Birrell, wearing an Israeli flag around his neck, was dragged by his assailants down the street by the flag, which they tightened like a noose so that he could not escape. Eventually the victims managed to flee the angry mob, their shirts torn from their backs, faces bruised, bodies beaten, and flags and signs in tatters.
It is hard to fathom that this happened in Calgary, on the streets of my city, while our police and leaders sat in silence. When police finally arrived at the scene, their reaction was one of reprehension directed at the victims. To Jacob Birrell, who was dragged down Macleod Trail by the Israeli flag tied around his neck, the police were reported to have said, “Well, what did you expect to happen coming down here with that flag?”
Perhaps more appalling than the nature of the attack itself was the city’s response. While the police and municipal government were given advance warning about the widely publicized protest, mere steps from City Hall, both declined to take preventative action. One year later, and the city’s leadership is still silent.
Attempts were made to identify the perpetrators, but by November, 2014, only four of them were arrested. By March of 2015 they were convicted of assault in varying degrees, but, astonishingly, their punishment consisted only of probation, community service, and writing apologies to the victims. This result is unsurprising, as there was an evident effort to minimize the severity of the incident during the trial. In fact, the prosecution falsely claimed that the victims were “Supporters of the Israeli government,” as though that were cause for such violence. However, the victims never professed to be supporters of the Israeli government, simply proponents of peace and Israel’s right to exist. Even if the Hamiltons had claimed to support the Israeli government, professing one’s political view certainly does not justify assault.
Adding insult to injury, Saima Jamal, the organizer of the protest, laughed about the violence and threatened that there would be more, posting on the event’s facebook group, “Bahaha…after today, they would be foolish to show up in another protest in Calgary as long as they live.” Needless to say, Jamal never contacted the victims to apologize.
Jamal’s co-organizer of the protest was Ala’a Hamdan, the former president of the University of Calgary’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights group, who wrote on social media that “This land will be proud that Palestinian babies are born men and women ready to spill their blood,” and “I will be named the mother of the martyr.”
It is clear from these statements that those who committed the attack were likely supported by the individuals who led them. However, since the four perpetrators successfully charged with assault received nothing more than a slap on the wrist as punishment, it is unlikely that their leaders will ever be held accountable.
One year later, the most disturbing conclusion to draw from the attack on the Hamiltons is that the law neither protects nor punishes all equally; we are not all held to the same standard. This was not only an attack on Jews or Israel, but upon the right to express one’s view without fear of molestation. That freedom was violated in Calgary last July and insulted by Jamal, Hamdan, the courts, and the City of Calgary, when they failed to defend the Hamiltons’ right to peacefully express their beliefs.
Instead, they have demonstrated to all that assault in the city of Calgary will be met with minimal enforcement of the law. It will be fallaciously called an ‘altercation,’ the victims will be blamed, their existence will be portrayed as incitement to violence by the prosecution – the victims’ own lawyers – and the entire incident will be swept under the rug.
When signs of peace and the mere defense of a country’s existence are received with such violence, it becomes clear that the pro-Palestine movement is no longer a movement based on the creation of a new state, but the destruction of an existing one.
While I do not believe that to support the creation of a Palestinian state one must support the destruction of the Jewish one, in practice, many within the mainstream pro-Palestine movement do.
With this in mind, such senseless violence is neither senseless nor random at all, but the natural result of the most damaging and enduring rhetoric that has inundated the pro-Palestine movement: that the only way to support Palestinians is to attack Israel; that to coexist is to not exist at all.
This is no hyperbole; not when concurrent to the attack on the Hamiltons in Paris anti-Israel mobs chanted “Death to the Jews,” attacking synagogues and Jewish businesses, or in Berlin when an angry mob gathered with Palestinian flags to chant “Jew, cowardly swine,” or at a Boston ‘die-in’ when they screamed “Go back to Birkenau.”
These mobs, like the mob in Calgary, did not just call for the annihilation of the Jewish state, but all Jews, including their fellow countrymen.
This violence remains unpunished, for under the guise of supporting the Palestinians, every action becomes valid. Justice was denied the Hamiltons because the perpetrators claim to be motivated by a hatred of Israel, not Jews. Since hatred of the Jewish state is increasingly acceptable, what would normally be treated as a hate crime and violent assault by any moral or legal standard is tolerated.
I do not refer to the legitimate criticism of the Israeli government or policy, but the hatred of the very existence of the Jewish state. What is worse is that the existential hatred of Israel is socially permitted, as though it were not a myopic ideology based in intolerance.
It is the dangerous belief that the progress of one people can only be achieved through the destruction of another. Above all, it is advanced anti-Semitism acting in its latest manifestation.
The pro-Palestine movement cannot, in good conscience, continue to misrepresent itself as supporting human rights, and simultaneously justify the deliberate attacks of Jewish men, women, and children by claiming that it is some form of “resistance.”
They cannot deceptively claim to stand for justice while promoting a racist doctrine. They lost the right to call themselves “freedom fighters,” “peace advocates,” or even “pro-Palestine” with the first strike of their fists.
The fear of calling out this not-so-soft bigotry puts us well on the road to our undoing. But the price of willful ignorance is always steep.
What price are we willing to pay?