On a cold and foggy night in the sleepy North York district of Toronto, far from the wailing sirens in Sderot and the buzzing drones in Gaza, hundreds filled the Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue to capacity to “Stand with Israel” alongside esteemed rabbis, city counselors, members of parliament, Progressive Conservative party leader Tim Hudak, and former speechwriter for George W. Bush and current Daily Beast columnist David Frum.
It was, as advertised, a rally. There was no doubt. There was no debate.
“There is no room for ambiguity when right and wrong is before you,” said James Moore, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages for the Harper government. “Ambiguity means that there is a grey area between right and wrong. It means that there is no definitive aggressor, there is no definitive victim.”
Moore placed the blame squarely on the Gazans, and commended his government for doing the same.
“Your government, the government of Canada, holds the terrorist entity of Hamas responsible for this violence,” Moore said, after which the crowd erupted in booming applause.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a deeply polarizing leader whom almost half of Canada views unfavorably, was the subject of almost as much adoration and praise as Israel itself.
“It is truly an honor to know that the Harper government is our friend,” said DJ Schneeweiss, the Consul General of Israel for Ontario and Western Canada.
While the Harper government was singled out for admiration, Hamas was singled out for condemnation. Like Moore, Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, another speaker, held Hamas solely responsible for the violence, including violence inflicted on Palestinians.
Speaking to the “Palestinians of Gaza and throughout the world,” Korobkin said, “Israel is not your enemy. Rather, your leaders are the enemy, those who would rather see your children dead if it means they can also harm one more Israeli child, who would rather see your homes destroyed if it means they can also destroy one more home in Israel.”
David Frum, who headlined the event, expressed a similar sentiment.
“We are here to express sympathy for the Palestinian men, women and children who have [been] exploited as human shields by killers—and who have been plunged into poverty, statelessness, and violence by leaders who flinched from leadership.”
And yet, while, like Frum, several speakers expressed sympathy for innocent Gazans afflicted by violence, the focus was mostly on the Israelis forced to live in fear. In one video, set to chilling closing theme from Darren Aronofksy’s Requiem for a Dream, Israelis fled in terror from rockets. The short film ended with the question written in simple text: “What would you do? In another film, courtesy of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Ethiopian Jews spoke about the daily panic of living under the threat of rocket fire.
As the evening came to a close, Cantor David Edwards led everyone in the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. Then, as people buttoned up their jackets and shuffled out of the synagogue, I spoke to a young man in an army-green IDF t-shirt.
“Israelis want nothing but peace,” said Matthew Cohen, 26. “They’re fighting in self-defense, not as the aggressor.”
I didn’t bother questioning him much further, because I already knew: He was one of the true believers.