Israeli flag-raising in major Canadian cities spurs outrage amid Gaza war

Rights advocates say decision to fly Israeli flags on country’s independence day ‘completely inappropriate’ and hurtful.

An Israeli flag
The Israeli flag-raising events in Canada have spurred condemnation and protests [Dado Ruvic/Illustration via Reuters]

A decision by some major cities in Canada to raise Israeli flags to mark the country’s Independence Day has spurred outrage, with Palestinian rights advocates saying Israel should not be honoured as it wages a deadly military assault on the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli flag will be raised in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, as well as in Toronto, the country’s largest city, on Tuesday to mark Israeli Independence Day, also known as Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The Ottawa flag-raising will be a private event after a planned public ceremony at city hall drew widespread condemnation.

“This decision is based on recent intelligence that suggests hosting a public ceremony poses a substantial risk to public safety,” the city said last week.

In Toronto, municipal staff approved a request from the Consulate General of Israel to raise the Israeli flag, The Toronto Star newspaper reported.

Both events drew small protests on Tuesday morning by pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

“As Jews, we scream it loud – Israel doesn’t make us proud,” protesters chanted outside the city hall building in Toronto. “As Jews, we say not in our name – it’s not our flag, we’re not the same.”

The flag raisings come as Israel continues to bombard the Gaza Strip, killing more than 35,000 Palestinians since the war began in early October.

Israel’s siege on the coastal Palestinian enclave has also spurred a worsening humanitarian crisis, with Palestinians facing shortages of water, food, fuel, and medical supplies.

Amid global protests demanding a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, Palestinian rights advocates in Canada also noted that the Yom Ha’atzmaut flag-raising events come a day before what’s known as Nakba Day.

Held annually on May 15, Nakba Day commemorates the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled from their homes and communities when the State of Israel was created in 1948.

Jamila Ewais, a researcher with the anti-racism programme at advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), said that against that backdrop, the flag-raisings ignore “the pain and injustice experienced by countless Palestinian families”.

“Celebrating Israel’s violent founding, especially this year, is equivalent to a celebration of injustice against the Palestinians,” Ewais said in a statement last week.

The City of Ottawa justified its decision to raise the Israeli flag by saying it “celebrates national holidays and independence days and holds flag-raising events and activities, in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada, for more than 190 federally recognized countries”.

But rights advocates pointed out that the city has refused to hold flag-raising events in the past.

In 2022, for example, Ottawa rejected a request from the Russian embassy to fly Russia’s flag at city hall.

“I indicated that until the Russian army leaves Ukraine we will not have anything to do with the Russian government and their illegal invasion,” Ottawa’s then-mayor, Jim Watson, said on social media at the time.

Leilani Farha, an Ottawa-based human rights lawyer and former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing, said raising the Israeli flag at this time “is completely inappropriate and deeply hurtful”.

Farha noted that Israel has been accused of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza in a case before the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice.

“Ottawa has a sizeable Palestinian, Arab and Muslim population,” she wrote in a letter sent to Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s chief of staff about the city’s plans to raise the Israeli flag, which she shared on social media.

“This action by the City is being viewed by this community – of which I am a member – as well as by many others who support Palestinians in Gaza and Palestinian liberation, as a provocation and a direct attack.”

Source: Al Jazeera