The peaceful nature of the anti-Israel march starting at Parliament Hill today may have been a result of Ottawa police requesting that counter-protests be moved or delayed, according to protest observers.
Ottawa police “strongly recommended” against a counter-protest being organized by Rabbi Michael Goldstein of the Glebe Shul when he sought approval for the public demonstration.
The counter-protest fizzled out once Rabbi Goldstein said he issued cancellation notices.
“Once I called off the rally, I took no leadership position within the group,” he said.
Fewer than 30 of the intended pro-Israel demonstrators arrived in a largely informal group to instead observe the anti-Israel protest from about a block away at Wellington and Metcalfe Streets, he added.
None of the prepared placards were used and the group did not lead any chants, which were intended to specifically denounce the violence against Canadian Jews at anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian rallies in Toronto, Montreal and, most recently, in Calgary, Rabbi Goldstein said.
Both Rabbi Goldstein and Martin Sampson, who observed the protest on behalf of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), saw a Hamas flag in the crowd, waving amongst Palestinian flags and pro-Palestine slogans on posters.
While seeing the Hamas flag was “unsettling,” Rabbi Goldstein said he wasn’t fearful of its presence, mostly because he expected it to be there. Sampson said he believed most people did not know what it meant because it was written in Arabic.
Ottawa police, who monitored the peaceful march mostly from small vehicles like bikes or motorcycles, advised Rabbi Goldstein to move the intended counter-protest to a different location away from the march route or to delay it altogether.
“Both of which [suggestions] I felt would not achieve the objectives we set out for it, so we called off our counter-demonstration,” Goldstein said.
About 300 people of all ages were reported to have taken part in the anti-Israel protest, according to Sampson and another CIJA official who observed the rally.
The only point of conflict or contact came as the anti-Israel group began to march down Wellington, Rabbi Goldstein said, where protesters and observers argued and shouted at each other. There was a police barricade between the groups and there have been no reports of violent incidents or injuries.
Shouts of, “Free Palestine” and, “Shame on you, Canada” could be heard as the anti-Israel group marched from their gathering spot in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office at Langevin Block on Parliament Hill, to the Israeli embassy on O’Connor Street, and then to Liberal Party and New Democratic Party political offices.
“From what I heard, none of it was overtly anti-Semitic but strongly anti-Israel,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “They had some choice words, but nothing that wasn’t expected in that situation.”
“What I was surprised to hear in Ottawa was the chant, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ which we know is a very, very thinly-veiled attack on the right of Israel to exist,” Sampson said, acknowledging that one of the speakers said they were not there protesting Jews, they were there protesting Israel.
“The Ottawa police deserve an enormous amount of credit,” Sampson said. “They were very good at crowd control… They did an excellent job of managing the protest.” That may have been due in part to the small size of the pro-Israel group, he added.
The anti-Israel protesters in Ottawa included Palestinian-Canadians, the anti-Zionist haredi group Neturei Karta, and “average Canadians” with no obvious direct connection to Israel or Palestine, Sampson said.