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Canada

‘Thin line’ between freedom of speech and ‘freedom of hate,’ says Israeli ambassador

OTTAWA — Israel’s envoy to Canada says it is important for democracies to assess when a line has been crossed between freedom of speech and what he calls “freedom of hate.”

Iddo Moed, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, spoke generally about what he sees as a “thin line” between the two in an interview with The Canadian Press.

He said he couldn’t comment on the nature of any demonstrations seen in Canada since Hamas launched surprise attacks on Oct. 7, when rocket attacks and raids by militants killed hundreds of civilians in southern Israel during a major Jewish holiday.

Israel retaliated with airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, and cut off access to essential supplies. More than 4,000 people have died in the latest Israel-Hamas war.

Almost immediately, the conflict sparked protests worldwide.

Political leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Liberal ministers, swiftly condemned demonstrators who attended pro-Palestinian rallies in cities such as Toronto and Montreal in the aftermath of the Hamas attack.

They viewed the gatherings as celebrations of the attack by Hamas, which Canada has listed as a terrorist organization since 2002. One sign spotted at the Oct. 9 protest outside Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square read: “Occupation is a crime, resistance is a response.”

The Gaza Strip, home to some 2.3 million people, has been under blockade by both Israel and Egypt since Hamas took control in 2007. Israel has defended the restrictions as a security measure, as Hamas has always embraced violence as a way to liberate Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. Palestinians have argued the blockade is collective punishment by Israel.

On Tuesday night, pro-Palestinian protesters marching through downtown Ottawa made their way to the front of a convention centre, where Trudeau and other federal leaders were speaking at a conference on antisemitism organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

The scene outside prompted organizers to direct attendees to leave through a back entrance and to exercise caution when going outside.

Speaking broadly, Moed said on Wednesday that there is a “distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of hate.”

“I don’t think that democracies allow people to hate and to incite, and I think that that is something that is looked at very carefully in many places, including Canada,” he said.

He added that it is “perfectly fine” if people feel strongly about support for Palestinians.

“The only issue is, I think that we, as democracies, should look at … when is a line crossed that is between supporting a cause and between changing our values in a way that incites hatred and violence and even glorification of horrendous terrorist attacks.

“That’s very, very important.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters last week he finds it “abhorrent” that anyone in Canada voices support for Hamas, but he said Conservatives believe in freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and “people are free to state their own opinions, even opinions that I find abhorrent.”

Police agencies across Canada have said they are monitoring for threats against synagogues and members of Jewish communities across the country. There were police officers outside the antisemitism conference in Ottawa this week.

CIJA said in a statement that “rabid pro-Hamas demonstrations” are being staged in cities across Canada.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who attended the recent antisemitism event in Ottawa, said that protests about what is happening in the Middle East do not belong “at a Jewish community event.”

“This was a Jewish community event to stop antisemitism. It seems like a strange place to have a protest about what’s happening in the Middle East.”

Housefather, who is Jewish, said the conflict has led to both Jewish and Muslim people in Canada feeling vulnerable.

“We need to make sure that we don’t add to that vulnerability.”

Quebec Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi, who is Muslim, told reporters on Wednesday that people in the Muslim Canadian community have been facing threats.

He said that his sister-in-law, whom he called “visibly Muslim,” was bringing his nine-year-old niece to school and was “accosted.”

“Two people gave her the middle finger — different people not in the same group. They followed her,” he said.

The pair didn’t make it to his niece’s school that morning, Zuberi said.

“That is unacceptable expression of speech. Why did that happen to her?”

Federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks, an Israeli Canadian, told the House of Commons earlier this week that her daughter removed her Star of David on a university campus.

Moed told The Canadian Press that Israel feels a lot of support from Canada, noting that there have also been “strong manifestations in support of Israel throughout Canada in many communities.”

“We feel at home, we feel among friends,” he said.

“We know that there are others who don’t support Israel and that is fine. That’s the way democracies work.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2023.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press