Toronto Mayor, John Tory, is disingenuous. Honoring Israel’s ‘Independence Day’ at City Hall this week, he emphasized:
“There have been days, far too many of them where Jewish Torontonians felt insecure just walking down the street on the way to school. And that is not right. It should never be the case in this city or anywhere that people on their way to worship or just going about their lives should feel insecure or unsafe because of the faith that they have or because of their background in any way, shape or form.”
Is that what we really should be thinking about when we talk about Israel? Given all we know—confirmed by numerous and recent findings by United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other credible organizations—that Israel actually is: a criminal state, unrelenting in its violent oppression and colonization of the Palestinian people? What does that, at all, have to do with antisemitism? Why is Toronto still celebrating Israel?
What makes Tory’s statement all the worse is that a few days prior to it he singled out, on Twitter, the Al-Quds (pro-Palestinian) demonstration, suggesting its potential for violence:
Read my statement below. pic.twitter.com/yo1fBvelAE
— John Tory (@JohnTory) April 29, 2022
This plays directly into the Zionist narrative that Palestinians are always suspect, a ‘terrorist’ risk that must be controlled, surveillanced, managed. If Tory were the “progressive” mayor he pretends to be, he would have expressed solidarity with the demonstrators, calling for an end to the current Israeli regime (never to be conflated with the Jewish people as the Israeli lobby does). That’s what someone who genuinely cares about human rights does. They support anyone, anywhere, being oppressed for who they are—in this case Palestinians for being Palestinian.
A Palestinian friend of mine in Toronto told me privately that whenever they see the Israeli flag they feel afraid, anxious, and automatically recall horrid stories told to them by their parents such as when the Israeli state illegally destroyed their mother’s home. As much as this saddens me it is not surprising.
Israel has traumatized the Palestinian people. Mayor Tory, as well as any principled public official, must reckon with and not turn away from this reality. They do so however every time they participate within the imaginary world of Zionists where Israel is an “exemplary” democracy, the perpetual victim of Palestinian attacks and have never been responsible for the slaughter and massacre of Palestinians. This is an outright lie that must be denounced, even if our so-called “leaders” won’t, be that out of fear of what Israeli supporters will do or contempt for the Palestinian people themselves.
Tory’s statement is also upsetting not because it is untrue. Antisemitism exists in Toronto and there’s absolutely no place for it. Rather, in foregrounding antisemitism (and saying nothing about Palestine) when talking about Israel, he misuses his power. Specifically, he impresses onto the public the message that when you think of Israel do not think of it as a colonial force or system of apartheid that disadvantages Palestinians. No. Think victims. A true friend of Israel would never frame it as the oppressor.
Where this kind of thinking gains currency it naturally creates an uninviting or even hostile situation for Palestinians, as well as their allies. Where they rightfully protest Israel’s criminality they’ll be slammed for it, silenced and called names like “antisemitic.” Writing this I’m reminded of a story by a friend and fellow Palestinian ally, Ted Schmidt. For wearing a Palestinian button someone on a Toronto elevator told him, “You should be killed.” Where is Tory, other Toronto politicians, speaking against such hostile anti-Palestinianism, all too common in the city? Why should Toronto be a safe place for only my Israeli brothers and sisters but not those of mine who are Palestinian? How can we, in good conscience, ever accept that?
If Tory is serious about honoring all Torontonians he will not shy away from, in addition to the Israeli flag this past Independence Day, raising the Palestinian one on May 15: Nakba Day. This will signal to Palestinians in Toronto and elsewhere that Toronto is serious about their receiving justice, remembering the Nakba catastrophe itself that—at the hands of violent Zionist forces—displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. This was to make way for the establishment of Israel itself in 1948 while preventing Palestinians from ever being able to return to their homes again.
It is also a test of sincerity. Tory and the City of Toronto more generally are expressly committed to truth and reconciliation efforts with Canadian Indigenous peoples. This, on the surface, means they are aware of the atrocities inflicted by colonization and want to rectify that, best as possible. If they are sincere about this they will show the same regard to Toronto Palestinians, who either experienced the Nakba firsthand or are descendants of those who have. The anti-colonial spirit is not selective. It does not oppose colonization in certain circumstances but not in others. It is neither bound to geography, Canadian or otherwise.
I stand with you Mayor Tory in combatting antisemitism. Will you stand with myself and many other fellow Torontonians, to combat the ongoing colonization of Palestine?
If so, raise the Palestinian flag at City Hall too.
– Paul Salvatori is a Toronto-based journalist, community worker and artist. Much of his work on Palestine involves public education, such as through his recently created interview series, “Palestine in Perspective” (The Dark Room Podcast), where he speaks with writers, scholars and activists. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.