Three hundred people gathered in front of the Roddick Gates Monday afternoon in solidarity with Israel three weeks after the conflict in Gaza intensified.
Noah Kochman, U2 Political Science and a representative of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students, kicked off the event with a speech.
“This is not an American issue, a European issue, or an Israeli issue, [but] a universal issue,” said Kochman.
“And so, I remain proud that the Canadian government has stood among the few who have spoken on behalf of victims of terror wherever they may be, recognizing that the residents of southern Israel deserve the same peace and security as the residents of Mumbai or Montreal.”
As his speech continued, cars passing by the group on Sherbrooke honked in support of the rally, which prompted students to cheer.
Kochman called upon his fellow students to “speak for peace and educate for peace,” as students broke out into dancing and singing Israeli songs.
An account of a resident from Sderot, the Israeli city that has been most bombarded by rockets, was read by Dana Remer, an Honors Social Science and Law student at Marianopolis College.
In the crowd, one student remarked, “This is so nice to see. I just hope we will achieve peace.”
But protesting the rally were representatives from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), yelling “Zionism is racism” and “Israel is apartheid.”
“[We don’t] celebrate war…. We think it is crazy that Israel used any excuse it could to bomb innocent people,” explained IJV representative Emanuel Lowi.
Lowi claimed there are many Israelis who opposed the war, despite the fact that polls show 97 per cent of Israelis support this operation.
“All violent regimes will fall eventually,” Lowi said.
The Consul General of Israel, Yoram Elron, defended Israel’s actions at the rally.
“What would you have done? We have to quell our threats,” Elron said.
Rabbi Pupko from the Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation of Cote St. Luc stirred the audience by addressing those who have questioned Israel’s actions.
“Maybe we would have taken you seriously had you gathered after terror attacks in London, in Madrid,” the rabbi said.
“You didn’t gather when Muslims are killed by Muslims or by Christians…. You only care about Muslim life when you can point an accusatory finger at Israel.”
Hillel debated whether or not the rally was necessary, yet ultimately concluded that the lack of pro-Israel support on campus was a valid reason for them to demonstrate and communicate their viewpoints safely.
Yael Smiley, the head of Israeli Affairs at Hillel McGill, said the rally was happening “in the spirit of education, moderation, and peace.” Unlike the students, though, he stressed the event was not a protest, but a way to communicate to other students that Israel wants peace.
Students held signs with slogans such as “Stop preaching hate!” and “Human rights does not equal human shields,” which they explained was a reference to Hamas’s practice of launching rockets from civilian homes for the past nine years.
Hillel McGill partnered with the greater Montreal Jewish community to host the rally.