I’m always impressed at large-scale community showings of support. Today, thousands of Montreal Jews (organizers say 15,000) came out to stand up, show our colours, and be counted. Religious and secular, young and – as the speakers tactfully said, “not so young”, Ashkenazi and Sepharadic, students, seniors, professionals, and working stiffs, from all walks of life and from across the political spectrum, all were there to wave the blue and white and to proudly exclaim that “Am Yisrael Chai!”
Buses from all over the city brought people to Phillips Square. Luckily, the weather began to clear up and the sun even came through briefly. In the square, people were singing, talking, circulating, and picking up posters and flags. We then began to walk slowly down Rene-Levesque to Place du Canada.
Unfortunately, it was necessary for us to be escorted by a large security contingent. I say unfortunately, because we ought to be able to show our support for Israel without having to worry about security. But since this does not reflect reality, the organizers took the necessary steps to ensure that the day would come off without incident . . . and they did an extremely good job. The rally was peaceful, orderly, and went off without a hitch.
The theme of the day was peace. Left-wing and right-wing may not share the same vision on how to achieve peace, but everyone agreed that the ultimate goal is none other than Shalom. During the speeches, frequent choruses of “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” and other peace songs broke out. And a plane flew overhead, carrying the banner “Canadians Support Israel”.
Apart from that, the day was centered around celebrating our widespread community support, within Montreal, Quebec, and Canada. An Israeli choir of young teenagers opened the event with singing and dancing in Hebrew. Speakers and distinguished guests included Montreal Mayor Gerard Tremblay, Federal MP Irwin Cotler, Provincial MP Russel Copeman, two representatives of the Christian communities – one from the Black community and one from the Asian, and the keynote speaker, former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard.
The speeches were short and most followed a similar pattern. In addition to some of the invited community guests, Israel’s ambassador spoke, as well as a representative of Hillel Montreal, among others. Most called for peace; all reaffirmed their pride in Israel and their absolute commitment to her existence and security.
Only when Lucien Bouchard made an indirect reference to the Road Map and talked about the need for a Palestinian state was there some uneasiness in the crowd. There is a strong desire for peace in the Jewish community, but there is also a massive distrust of the process and of the supposed peace partner. But Bouchard, for his part, stayed mostly on course, as did the other speakers. The whole idea was to focus on what unites us, not on what divides us. Most of the crowd probably did not vote for Bouchard, and many were probably out demonstrating against him and his sovereigntist ideas back in 1995 or even since. But today, people were happy to accept help and support from anyone willing to give it, no matter what other political issues they may disagree on. Lucien Bouchard is now a private citizen, albeit a prominent one, and he chose to take a stand today in support of Israel. Through MP Russell Copeman, Jean Charest’s government also lent its unequivocal support, thus uniting federalists and separatists, all standing together for Israel.
The rally closed with the singing of O Canada and of Hatikvah, and then the crowd dispersed rather quickly. On my way to the bus, I noticed a tiny group of perhaps a dozen pro-Palestinian protesters standing across the street, contained by riot police. They were outnumbered probably 1000 to 1 and I knew they were totally insignificant, but I was still dismayed to realize that the news reports on the event would likely focus on them and not on the main event. But I wasn’t about to let that bother me too much. They’re entitled to their views, but the sheer number of people out today waving the blue and white showed clearly where the widespread support lies.
Israel is 55 years old. Today is a day of celebration. As a number of speakers pointed out, it is also only one day after Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for the far too many who have fallen. We cannot celebrate independence without recalling the hard fight to preserve it. We must never take Israel – or our Atzmaut – for granted.