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Toronto ‘Walk with Israel’ event held amid high security, faceoffs with protesters

An estimated 50,000 people took part in annual event
Supporters of Israel gather to celebrate the country’s Independence Day in Montreal on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. A pro-Israel march is set to take place today in Toronto amid heightened security and a related protest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

Thousands of members of Toronto’s Jewish community marched down a major city artery on Sunday as part of an annual pro-Israel event that unfolded amid heightened security and protests along the route.

The United Jewish Appeal held its annual “Walk with Israel,” which involves a five-kilometre walk and a festival in the city’s north end.

March participants, who were expected to turn out in record numbers, waved Israeli flags and carried posters of those taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that triggered the latest war with Israel.

The UJA estimated that 50,000 people participated, but Toronto police said they won’t have an official estimate until the event is fully wrapped up later on Sunday.

The march was accompanied by a strong police presence and private security personnel, with a large stretch of Bathurst Street blocked off for the event. Marchers encountered two groups of protesters within the first hour of the walk, with police using buses to obstruct demonstrators’ view of the event.

Duelling chants of “free, free Palestine” and “bring them home” rang out when the groups crossed paths at the corner of Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue and some heated exchanges occurred. Police officers formed barriers between the two groups and intervened in confrontations.

Several pro-Palestinian protesters encountered along the march route declined a request for comment. Their placards and chants expressed opposition to Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza since Oct. 7.

The United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto’s Noah Shack said the amount of security surrounding the event was “a sad testament to where our city is right now.”

In an interview before the march began, he said there’s been “an explosion of hate” directed at Toronto’s Jewish community since the start of the latest war and the event was a show of support and resilience.

“Walk with Israel” attendees also included some people whose family members were taken hostage by Hamas.

Avichai Brodutch, whose wife and three children were released from captivity in November, said it was “really important for us to come over to Toronto and meet the community and tell our story to the people of Canada.”

“I feel at home being here and seeing everybody come and showing their support,” said Brodutch, whose brother lives in Toronto.

Brodutch said the community is also celebrating the rescue of four Israeli hostages from Gaza on Saturday.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said Sunday that at least 274 Palestinians, including dozens of children, were killed, as part of that rescue operation.

Toronto resident Maayan Shavit said her cousin is still being held hostage by Hamas.

“We know from the beginning that she’s being held underground,” she said, adding that her family is hoping for a “miracle.”

Shavit said she wants the world to understand “that human beings are not for trade.”

“You don’t trade people … they are not soldiers, they are civilians.”

Several groups representing Jews who oppose Israel’s actions in Gaza urged community members to instead sit with the students at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of Toronto campus on Sunday.

“For a growing number of Jews here in Canada, witnessing the continued siege and assault on Gaza fills us with horror and grief for what is being done in our name,” Jonathan Brown Gilbert, a University of Toronto graduate student at the encampment said in an emailed statement a day before the march.

READ ALSO: Who are the 4 hostages rescued by Israeli forces from captivity in Gaza?

READ ALSO: Palestinians struggle for food, shelter as Israel attacks Rafah

The Canadian Press

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