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Canadian Press, Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nationwide rallies staged in solidarity with Israel as others slam Ottawa's stance

TORONTO — Prominent Canadians called on Ottawa to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza in the face of Israel's "war crimes" as others planned to rally nationwide Thursday in support of Israelis who have been "paralyzed" for years by Hamas missile strikes.

While some 30 protesters marched into the Israeli Consulate in Montreal and handed officials a mock eviction notice, a group that included Jewish musicians, academics and activists gathered in Toronto to denounce Canada's stance.

Those actions preceded scheduled rallies from Vancouver to Halifax in solidarity with the people of southern Israel, with the Toronto event at Beth Tzedec Synagogue to include a videotaped message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Internationally acclaimed concert pianist Anton Kuerti said the "servile" way Ottawa is supporting the U.S. position makes him "ashamed" to be a Canadian.

"The unbelievable war crimes that Israel is committing in Gaza ... it makes me ashamed to be a Jew," Kuerti said at the Toronto news conference.

"The servile way in which Canada is supporting the U.S. position - basically it's all Hamas's fault because of missiles that they throw over in desperation - I think this reluctance of Canada to use its influence makes me ashamed to be Canadian."

Israel launched an offensive into the Palestinian territory Dec. 27 to halt repeated rocket attacks on its southern towns. Nearly 800 Palestinians have been killed - almost half of them civilians, according to area officials - while 10 Israelis have died.

On Wednesday, Canada donated $4 million for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip while repeating its call for an "immediate and durable" ceasefire. At the same time, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said that, under the UN charter, a country is allowed to defend itself and that Israel has defended itself after several years of rocket assaults.

Rallies were planned in Toronto, Montreal, London, Hamilton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax to show support for Israelis "paralyzed by thousands of Hamas missiles from Gaza," organizers said.

"I think that Canadians understand that the values of a terrorist entity that is committed to destroy its neighbour are not the values shared by them," said Howard English of the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto, one of the groups behind the rallies.

"I think Canadians understand that people who live in the line of rocket fire every day of their lives cannot go on living that way."

The group that held the news conference in Toronto included law professor Michael Mandel, research physicist Ursula Franklin and was led by David Orchard, who twice ran for the leadership of the former Progressive Conservatives and is not Jewish.

"When the world community at the UN tried to stop the violence, the call for a ceasefire was blocked by the U.S., and Canada, to its shame, has fully supported the U.S., actually opposing the call for an immediate ceasefire," Orchard said.

"These actions by Canada and the U.S. amount to a green light for the killing to continue, and they make our governments complicit to the crimes being waged in Gaza."

The Montreal protesters who entered the Israeli Consulate said people in that city could not support the continued bombing in Gaza. The group also called for the federal government to break off relations with Israel until the military action stops.

Police escorted the protesters out of the building after about an hour, and there was no damage and no arrests.

B'nai Brith Canada issued a community-wide security alert Thursday in Toronto calling for heightened vigilance in light of the escalating conflict in Gaza.

The Jewish human-rights organization said it has documented a spike in incidents against Jews in Canada, including harassment and death threats. It also cited violence abroad, notably the firebombing of a synagogue in Paris.

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