MONTREAL — Jewish community leaders in Montreal on Tuesday called for widespread condemnation of the overnight firebombings of two local Jewish institutions, saying the incidents are the latest evidence of antisemitism in the city.
"If you're asking how the Jewish community is feeling, they're not feeling so safe," Yair Szlak, president and CEO of Montreal Jewish organization Federation CJA, told a news conference. "And I think there is a lot to be done by our politicians, by our leaders, by leaders of every community to say that this is not acceptable behaviour."
The two firebombings in the night between Monday and Tuesday caused minor damage to the front door of the Congregation Beth Tikvah synagogue and the back door of the nearby Federation CJA office in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. No one was injured since the two buildings were empty at the time of the incidents, Szlak said.
The firebombings are under investigation by the Montreal police department. Police spokesperson Sabrina Gauthier said Tuesday morning that investigators had not yet determined a motive for the apparent attacks, but they come amid rising tensions linked to the Israel-Hamas war, which was sparked by an Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed about 1,400 people, mostly civilians. The Palestinian death toll from retaliatory Israeli strikes had surpassed 10,000, the Health Ministry of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said Monday.
Congregation Beth Tikvah cantor Henry Topas said in a statement released by Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada that the synagogue is "horrified that exactly one month to the day of the atrocities committed by Hamas, someone tried to burn down our house of worship."
Szlak called the Oct. 7 Hamas attack "a dark day in Jewish history. To perpetuate that crime against humanity by acts against the Jewish community anywhere in the world is wrong," he said. "What has happened today cannot happen again. It must be the last time this happens."
Police recorded 38 reports of hate crimes and other incidents targeting the Montreal Jewish community between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25.
Several politicians took to social media Tuesday to condemn the Montreal firebombings. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, that the "attempted arson … is deeply disturbing."
"Antisemitism is completely unacceptable and must always be condemned — our government will continue to work with Jewish communities to combat this hatred."
Also present at the news conference Tuesday was Eta Yudin, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Quebec, who addressed a speech by imam Adil Charkaoui at a recent pro-Palestine rally in downtown Montreal. In a video posted to Charkaoui's TikTok account, he is leading a prayer in Arabic and calling on God to "take care of aggressor Zionists," adding "O God, don't leave any of them."
The Morocco-born Charkaoui was arrested under Canada’s security certificate system in 2003. Canada’s police and security departments alleged he was a terrorist and had trained at a militant camp in Afghanistan. For nine years his movements were monitored by the state but he was never charged.
Yudin said Charkaoui's comment raises questions about "how he got to a demonstration, how he got to have the possibility to speak in the streets of Montreal."
"We know very well that words lead to action," Yudin continued. "Such a comment could inspire action. And that's what we don't want in the streets of Montreal. We're counting on authorities to … do what is necessary to protect our society. But at the same time, it takes everyone to denounce this hate, these comments."
Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Premier François Legault said Charkaoui's comments are "incitement to hatred, to violence."
"I am counting on the police to do their jobs," he said, adding, "It's not up to me to tell (police) how to do their jobs, but inciting hatred is not allowed."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press