Antisemetic incidents on the rise in Westboro and Glabar Park neighbourhoods

Jews for Palestine hold a sign that reads “Not in our name: Jews against genocide.
Jews against Genocide have called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza as the conflict in the Middle East continues. Photo provided by Sam Hersh.

By Charlie Senack

Kitchissippi’s Jewish community say they are fearful and on edge after multiple acts of antisemitism within the ward and other city neighborhoods. 

Jessica Greenberg, of Osgoode Properties, a local apartment rental firm, said that for the first time, cameras have been installed at her company’s Wellington West business. She said antisemitic events in the ward resulted in the tough decision after fearing for her safety.   

“As a community citizen and not just as a Jewish citizen, I think the rise of hate against any group is not good for our city,” said Greenberg. “It does not progress us; it holds us back. It makes it scary for any person living here. All kids should be able to go to school safely. It should not be an act of courage to show up at your office.”

On Oct. 31, Ottawa’s Jewish Community School located at 31 Nadolny Sachs Private near Broadview, was forced to close after a bomb threat. Greenberg’s three children attend the private academy. Her daughter was in a tutoring lesson when she had to be evacuated. A teacher drove her home.

“I’ve never felt nervous sending my kids to school and now I feel nervous every day,” she said. “There is a fear that exists until your kids walk back in the door and a sigh of relief that you don’t even know you’re holding.”

The bomb threat is just one of many antisemitic events which have unfolded in Ottawa over recent weeks. 

Jewish homes in the Glabar Park neighbourhood were recently targeted for having mezuzahs, a piece of parchment inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah, on their doors. A Jewish high school student had their face rubbed into a swastika sign on the ground. Ottawa Rabbi Idan Scher was among multiple people to face death threats. On Nov. 10, Ottawa police launched an investigation after gasoline and antisemitic messages were found in a clinical area at the General Campus of the Ottawa hospital. A 33-year-old woman was later arrested and charged. 

The Ottawa Jewish Federation of Ottawa shared photos to KT of anti-Jewish slurs being spray-painted on local roadways and garage doors. They also showed messages left in mailboxes and on the front steps of Jewish residents’ homes with drawings of swastikas and letters saying ‘Jews are going to die.’

A sign with the word “kidnapped” in hood shows the picture of an Israeli citizen who was held hostage.
Signs with pictures of Israelis who have been kidnapped by Hamas are seen on Wellington St. W. Photo by Charlie Senack.

“What we are now hearing and seeing in our community are incidents happening everywhere, from public schools to university campuses, people’s neighbourhoods and workplaces,” said Sarah Beutel, acting CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. “It’s very distressing that it’s happening, and it’s time for our neighbours to say there is no place for hate in our community and it has to stop.”

Since the war unfolded, many pro-Palestine marches have been held at Parliament Hill in Ottawa and across Canada. They have attracted crowds by the hundreds as calls for a permanent ceasefire grow louder with the mounting death toll. 

Since the fighting began in early October, more than 14,800 Palestinians, 6,150 of them children, have been killed in Gaza. The death toll in Israel stands at about 1,200. 

At many of the marches, demonstrators have chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The saying was also printed on posters that went up on street posts around Westboro and Wellington West, but were later removed. 

Many in the Jewish community say they see the slogan as an antisemitic call to kill Jews. 

“I consider that to be genocide hate speech,” said a concerned Greenberg. “When it’s transposed into a local environment, known or not, the intent behind it is to incite hate and violence against the Jewish community.”

A woman holds a sign that says “stand with Gaza.”
For over a month and a half, demonstrations have been held at Parliament Hill every weekend as Palestinians call for their human rights to be respected. Photo by Charlie Senack.

But not everyone sees it the same way. Independent Jewish Voices Canada said on their website the chant is a call for human rights of Palestianians to be respected.

“It cannot be inherently violent to call for your own dignity to be respected, and to label the Palestinian quest for freedom as inherently antisemitic or actively violent is Islamophobic and a form of anti-Palestine racism,” the group wrote. “The impulse to label calls for freedom as violent comes from a fundamentally oppressive mindset.”

Hintonburg resident Sam Hersh, who is a member of the Jewish organization, said a wrongful divide is being created. 

“I interpret it as a call for Palestianians to be free across the entire region,” he said. “I don’t see it as a genocidal chant, and I think people are showing their true colours saying that if Palestinians are free, then that means the extermination of Jews.”

The posters were removed after complaints were received; however, their disposal was because they were hung on posts where they were not permitted. 

In his weekly newsletter, Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper condemned both acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia, and said it’s horrifying to watch the loss of life increase in the Middle East. He said he’s heard from many residents who were concerned about the poster’s presence in the community. 

“To many Jews, it is an antisemitic attack on Israel’s right to exist and Jews’ safety and security everywhere. Palestinian activists consider that it is a call for freedom and civil rights for Palestinian residents living in Israel,” Leiper wrote. “I don’t know how to reconcile those two interpretations. I applaud those who are working to find common ground and oppose hate in any form.”

Hersh said there’s a difference between being antisemitic and critical of the Israeli government.

“There is an attempt by a lot of these organizations to make it seem complicated when in reality a lot of us can agree that the killing of 12,000 to 15,000 people over the course of a month is unjustifiable. What happened on October 7 was terrible but it doesn’t justify the killing of 10 times more people. As a Jewish person, it brings me a lot of pain to see that. We need solitary. An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Ottawa Police said that since the Gaza area conflict began to unfold on Oct. 7, there have been 64 hate crimes reported as of Nov. 6 — 50 of which were deemed criminal. That is compared to 41 reports during the same period last year. In a statement to KT, police said that while numbers per marginalized group aren’t available, Jewish, Black, LGBTQ2+ and Muslim communities are most targeted.

Palestinian demonstrators outside Parliament Hill.
At pro-Palestine marches, many demonstrators have chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Some Jewish community members say it’s antisemitic, but not all agree. Photo by Charlie Senack.

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