In Defense of the Peace-11: Standing with the Peace Activists Being Criminalized in Toronto for Palestine Solidarity

By World BEYOND War, December 1, 2023

Yesterday the Jews Say No to Genocide Coalition (of which World BEYOND War is a member) along with acclaimed Jewish and legal experts, held a protest press conference outside of Indigo’s flagship store in Toronto to respond to the recent police raids on 11 Toronto area peace activists. These raids and brutal arrests are egregious examples of police overreach, intimidation, and waste of community resources (read more on this here). 

The criminalization of 11 peace activists for allegedly putting up posters on Indigo property is part of a broader policing strategy of criminalizing people exposing corporate and government support for Israel’s genocidal policies. Over the last few weeks, Toronto police issued trespass tickets for peace activists arrested while blockading weapons company Inkas, which sells arms to Israel, and for staying inside Justice Minister Arif Virani’s office. Charges have also been laid against three people for allegedly interrupting the Giller Prize ceremony to expose Scotiabank’s half a billion dollar investment in Israel’s biggest weapons company. 

At yesterday’s press conference more than a hundred Jews held up replicas of the posters from the original Indigo action to illustrate that criticizing Indigo CEO Heather Reisman’s financial enablement of the Israeli military’s violence in Palestine is not an antisemitic attack.

The speakers stated loudly and clearly: exposing Reisman’s financial support for Israeli war crimes is instead a legitimate and necessary form of protest; targeting Indigo/Chapters Books over its support of the Israeli military is in no way antisemitism, and in no way can be considered a hate crime. Speakers also demanded that all charges be dropped against anyone speaking up for Palestine, insisted on the urgent need for a permanent ceasefire, and demanded an end to the siege on Gaza and a stop to Canadian support for Israeli occupation, including for Canada to stop arming Israel immediately. 

 The press conference can be watched in full right here:

Here is the statement that was shared by Lesley Wood, Associate Professor of Sociology at York University and one of the 11 peace activists arrested last week during the police raid. 

As someone who grew up proud but private about their Jewishness, to be labelled an anti-Semite is a horrible thing. My great grandparents fled the pogroms of Poland. Nazis killed members of my family. My 95 year old father survived the anti-Semitism in Britain during World War II. To protect us, I was discouraged from drawing attention to our Jewishness. But my father also taught me that to be Jewish meant to speak on the side of the oppressed. He taught me that the history of the Holocaust meant Never Again, for Anyone. That our history, the history of the Jewish people meant that one must fight for justice. So I must do so now; knowing that some will say, I have no right to speak.

On Wednesday at 5:30 am, seven police officers broke down the door of our home and dragged my partner and I out of bed. We were cuffed and our house was searched. What were they searching for? They ignored the menorah. They ignored the songsheet from Jews Against the Genocide lying on the kitchen table. Instead, they took us to the station and charged us with hating Jews. They charged us with conspiracy. They are dragging our names through the mud.

We are accused of putting posters on a shop window, posters that were trying to stop a genocide. Trying to stop the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians by Israel's Defence Forces. They accuse us of conspiring to tell people that Indigo's CEO funds soldiers who volunteer for that army. That army that has, (my heart aches), killed over 6000 children; that has taken over 13,000 lives. That army and that government that is turning the trauma of the Holocaust into rocketfire.

It is grotesque. Orwellian. Hate crime charges used to stop those speaking out against hate. Charges targeting those who work for a peaceful, freer and more just future for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. That target those who believe that life is sacred. Who believe that peace is necessary to protect life. I will fight these charges, knowing that they are intended to stop those Jews and non-Jews who call for a ceasefire. But I know that we, that they, will continue to embody that lesson from the Holocaust that says, Never Again, for Anyone.

Acclaimed author, journalist, filmmaker and social activist Naomi Klein also spoke live at the press conference. Her speech was published in full by the Breach here.

Additional speakers included:

  • Audrey Macklin, Professor of Law and Rebecca Cook Chair in Human Rights at the University of Toronto;
  • Natalie Rothman, Professor, Department of History at the University of Toronto. Natalie is an Israeli with family in Israel that was taken hostage.
  • Sarena Sairan, Executive Director of the United Jewish People’s Order and The Winchevsky Centre. Member of the Jews Say No to Genocide Coalition.

Here are some of the powerful quotes shared by yesterday’s speakers. (click on each image to expand, or share on instagram here)

Immediately after our press conference we learned that new charges had just been added to existing charges faced by the Peace-11.

Here is a statement put out by a Defence Committee concerning additional charges on the Peace-11 and not by any of the 11 charged or their legal representatives:

November 30, 2023, 3pm EST, Toronto – Hours after hundreds of Jewish people gathered outside the flagship Indigo bookstore in Toronto, holding up replica posters that expose Indigo CEO Heather Reismann’s direct financial support for genocide in Palestine by funding the participation of foreign soliders in the Israeli army – a new  “criminal harassment” charge has been added to existing conspiracy and mischief charges against 11 peace activists in Toronto.

Heather Reisman – one of the richest people in Canada – would have to claim that she fears for her life and/or safety for these charges to be laid. All because of alleged posters and red paint outside a store window – a tactic used for over half a century by anti-war movements in Canada.

In doing so, Heather Reisman, with the support of Toronto Police, has attacked the most basic charter protected right of free speech. The police and the prosecutor can’t really believe that these charges will lead to convictions because doing so would fundamentally alter the ability of all of civil society and social movements to speak freely. We recognize that the real purpose of these charges is to silence and create a chilling effect on Palestine liberation movements. But three-quarters of the people in Canada support a ceasefire in Gaza. Our movements cannot and will not be intimidated. Not when over 15,000 people have been murdered in Gaza, babies buried under rubble, a million and half displaced. The only path ahead is forward. We will continue to show up in the hundreds of thousands onto the streets to call for a permanent ceasefire, an end to the siege of Gaza, and an end to Canadian complicity in Israeli occupation.

Drop the Charges. Free Palestine.

The Toronto Palestine Solidarity Community Defence Fund has just been launched. This fund will support everyone criminalized for protest and direct action in solidarity with Palestine in Toronto, including the recent Giller & Indigo arrests.

2 Responses

  1. I just tried to make a donation to the defense fund and the following message came up: “This application has been revoked for violation of the WePay ToS. You can no longer make API calls. Your card has not been charged. Please try again or contact us if it keeps happening.
    What does this mean? Is it an attempt to stop Palestinian Solidarity movements from receiving funds? Is there some other way I can give?

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