Catholic protest not pro-Hamas, organizers say

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  • January 20, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Chants of "Palestine is ours/The Jews are dogs" and "Burn, burn Israel" had nothing to do with the vast majority of protesters at an event organized by the archdiocese of Montreal 's social action committee, said the director of the archdiocese of Montreal's social action office.

"To claim that this peaceful demonstration was pro-Hamas is to grossly misrepresent the views of the overwhelming majority of persons who marched on a cold Saturday afternoon," Brian McDonough told The Catholic Register.

McDonough did not publicly distance his office from slogans such as "There is no God but Allah and the jihadist is the beloved of Allah" and "O Nasrallah, o beloved, strike, strike Tel Aviv" before media reports and video of the demonstration went across Canada. He said he and the demonstration's other organizers didn't want to bring undue attention to "an extremely marginal, fringe group."

Canadian Jewish Congress president Bernie Farber is still waiting to hear from the protest organizers.

"All we have asked is that groups like the archdiocese social action committee and the unions and many of the others who participated as co-sponsors to just stand up and condemn it," Farber said.

Slogans and placards at Jan. 10 protests in Montreal and Toronto constituted incitements to hatred and even extended to calls for genocide, according to the CJC.

The Jewish community and supporters of Israel support the right of Canadians to disagree with Israel's policies and object to its military operation in Gaza, but waving Hamas flags and calling for violence against Jews crosses a line, said Farber.

"Surely somebody, especially from a church organization, should stand up and say, 'Whoa, we certainly didn't sign up for this kind of activity and this kind of language.' But all we've had so far is silence, and that's hugely disturbing," said Farber.

"We formally condemn and disassociate ourselves from anti-Jewish slogans and actions by small fringe groups at the Jan. 10 demonstration, but we ask will the CJC rebuke the Israeli government and the Israeli Defence Forces for their violations of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting attacks against civilian populations?" asked McDonough. "Will the CJC join with human rights organizations within Israel?"

Organizers of the Jan. 10 event specifically condemned both the Israeli blockade of Gaza and Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in their appeal for people to support the protest, McDonough said. The organizers did not ask the pro-Hamas demonstrators to leave or to stop their violent chants because they regarded these protesters as irrelevant and did not want a confrontation.

"You don't chant or you don't accept statements that in any way are incompatible with your values or your vision," said McDonough. "But you're not in a position to go in there with force and tear down slogans or kind of push people away from the demonstration."

The Catholic peace movement is not interested in naming villains or taking sides in the conflict between Hamas and the government of Israel, said Fr. Richard Renshaw of the Montreal Pax Christi International affiliate Antennes de Paix.

"We think all sides need to stop the violence," Renshaw said.

 Read response by the Social Action Office for the archdiocese of Montreal here

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