Members of Toronto’s Jewish community rally to show support for Israel

TORONTO – Members of Toronto’s Jewish community rallied at a city synagogue Monday night in a show of solidarity with Israel as the country’s conflict with Hamas rulers in Gaza continues.

The Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue was packed with people voicing their support for Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas, which seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Israel launched an air strike against the Gaza strip on Nov. 14, to deter Hamas from firing rockets into Israel.

In Toronto, Israel’s consul general to the city DJ Schneeweiss, federal Heritage Minister James Moore and journalist David Frum were among those who addressed the crowd.

Moore assured those gathered that Ottawa stands firm in its commitment to Israel.

“The government of Canada holds Hamas responsible for this violence,” he said.

His comments echoed a similar statement made by the Prime Minister on Friday, in which Stephen Harper said Canada recognized and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks.

Harper had also urged all sides in the conflict to “take all precautions possible to spare any innocent lives.”

Meanwhile, Frum, the event’s keynote speaker, spoke directly to Israeli citizens.

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“When the media condemns both those who commit terrorist atrocities and those who are the victims of terrorist atrocities, Israel asks, ‘are we alone?’” he said, and gestured to the room. “Take a look at this hall. Israel is not alone.”

In addition to the speeches, the Toronto rally featured the screening of a video which asked the crowd to “pretend” they were in the same situation as Israeli citizens, and showed pictures of ruined cities, mothers comforting distraught children, and people running away from danger.

“Now stop pretending,” the video intoned in the last minute. “Because it is happening in Israel. Every day.”

In the six days of conflict so far, the death toll in Gaza has risen to 111. Palestinian officials say 56 of those are civilians.

Meanwhile, Hamas fighters have launched more than 1,000 rockets into Israel. Three Israelis have died and dozens have been injured from Palestinian rocket fire.

Canada and Israel recently signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding covering defence and industrial initiatives, as well as information-sharing.

On Monday, Egypt, the traditional mediator between Israel and the Arab world, was at the centre of a flurry of diplomatic activity, trying to broker a cease-fire in the region.

Hamas – which is an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood – wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

Israeli leaders have also repeatedly threatened to widen their offensive, saying an invasion is an option.

Israel has amassed troops on the Gaza border and begun calling up thousands of reservists. Still, an Israeli official emphasized that Israel hopes to find a diplomatic solution.

Over the years, Israeli governments have struggled to come up with an effective policy toward Hamas, which is deeply rooted in Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.6 million.

Neither Israel’s economic blockade of the territory nor military strikes have deterred the Islamists, weakened their grip on Gaza or their ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state.

Instead, the two sides have observed informal cease-fires over the years, interrupted by flare-ups of violence.

– with files from the Associated Press