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Jewish group speaks out after cafes targeted in pro-Palestinian rallies

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An advocacy group is vowing that the city’s Jewish community will not be intimidated after another Jewish-owned business was targeted as part of protests related to the Israel-Hamas war over the weekend.

Video emerged over the weekend showing a group of pro-Palestinian protesters swarming an Aroma café near the CN Tower downtown and chanting “boycott Aroma.”

The Israeli-founded coffee chain has branches all over Canada and the U.S.

In one video, people can be seen chanting, shaking their fists and waving Palestinian flags at the windows of the coffee shop. Another video appeared to show protesters spray-painting graffiti on the windows of another Aroma location as hundreds of protesters marched outside.

A similar scene unfolded with a pro-Palestinian protest at another Jewish-owned business on University Avenue two weeks ago.

A number of politicians condemned the protest, saying that it is wrong to target and intimidate local businesses over the war. But the message appears not to have landed.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center CEO Michael Levitt said in an interview with CP24.com that while peaceful protests are part of people’s rights as Canadians, trying to intimidate another community is never OK.

“The banging on windows at Café Landwer last week, to have screaming and yelling outside one Aroma and the affixing of anti-Israel propaganda outside another Aroma –  this is meant to chill and intimidate in a place we all call home and we all have to live,” Levitt said.

A line needs to be drawn, he said, at Jewish community centres, homes and businesses – places which have all been targeted in the past few weeks.

“There is lots of space for people concerned about the plight of Palestinian civilians to be able to protest in this city, as is their Charter right,” Levitt said.

He said while some have made an effort to distinguish between Israeli and Jewish-owned business, the intent is the same.

“The intent is to intimidate and put fear into the hearts of Canadian Jews and we will not back down,” Levitt said.

“We will not give ground to these campaigns that are meant to again, vilify and chill our life as Canadian Jews. We are a proud community. We are a strong community, and we will continue to advocate and to speak out, especially for the plight of the 243 Innocent hostages that are being held by the terrorist group, Hamas.”

The war between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7 with a surprise terror attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians. Some 1,400 Israelis were killed in the attack, while more than 240 others were taken hostage and dragged into Gaza.

Israel has retaliated with devastating airstrikes that have left 10,000 Palestinians dead so far and have sparked a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israeli officials have said they will not pause their operation until Hamas releases all the hostages.

Tensions have also spilled out on streets all over the world, with dueling mass protests in support of Israel and the Palestinians.

An Aroma espresso bar location is pictured in downtown Toronto Monday, November 6, 2023. (Joshua Freeman /CP24)

Aroma did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the protest targeting some of its stores.

Local MP Kevin Vuong denounced the protest at Aroma on Twitter. In a post Monday, he shared a picture of a breakfast at the café and said he’d be going this week.

Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford also spoke out against it and said he’d be going as well.

“This is antisemitism in Toronto. Jewish-owned businesses, targeted … because they are Jewish-owned,” Bradford said. “These acts of hate, intimidation, and violence must not be tolerated. We must ensure anti-hate laws are being enforced and that the Jewish community feels safe.”

Several other people posted pictures of themselves at Aroma Monday to show support for the chain.

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said Monday that he is very concerned with the rise in hate-motivated incidents over the past few weeks.

“I think the most alarming trend is the incredible rise in incidence of hate, hate crimes, antisemitism, Islamophobia that we're seeing in the city. Very, very concerning,” Demkiw said. “We have certainly committed an extensive amount of resources and I've said it before, and I'll say it again, we're gonna do everything possible to hold those responsible, accountable.”

- With files from the Associated Press

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