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Ottawa cancels public ceremony for Israeli flag-raising, citing security concerns

OTTAWA — City officials say they've cancelled plans to host a flag-raising ceremony at Ottawa City Hall marking the establishment of Israel because of security concerns.
The City of Ottawa has cancelled the ceremony surrounding the raising of Israel's flag at city hall due to security concerns. Canadian and Israeli flags fly in Ottawa on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — City officials say they've cancelled plans to host a flag-raising ceremony at Ottawa City Hall marking the establishment of Israel because of security concerns.

The Israeli flag will be raised next Tuesday to mark Yom Ha'atzmaut, but a ceremony involving the mayor, diplomats and members of the Jewish community will not go ahead. 

The city said it has intelligence that suggests the event would pose "a substantial risk to public safety." It did not offer details about the nature of that concern.

"The city must prioritize the safety of its residents, visitors and employees. Therefore, this year's commemoration will occur without the customary ceremony," the city said in a news release Tuesday. 

Ottawa police did not answer questions about the security concerns or its recommendation to cancel the event, saying in an email that its safety plans "are scalable and adaptable to current needs."

Social-media posts suggest the event would have attracted protesters, including from the student-led pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Ottawa. 

The group Ottawa 4 Palestine shared on social media last week that it planned to "shut down the Zionist flag-raising event." 

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he's disappointed at the decision, blaming "escalating threats and hostility" in a social-media post.

"The Jewish community is a vital and important part of our city. Members of Ottawa's Jewish community have faced a significant increase in antisemitism, threats, and hostility in the past seven months," Sutcliffe said.

Deborah Lyons, Canada's envoy for combating antisemitism, condemned the decision to cancel the event. "Limiting Jewish participation in Canadian life due to the threat of violence is not acceptable," she wrote on social media.

"Add security, take precautions. Do not simply cancel the event. I ask Ottawa to reconsider," Liberal MP Anthony Housefather wrote on X.

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman called the cancellation decision cowardly. 

The city pointed out in its news release that it celebrates national holidays and independence days with flag-raising events and activities for more than 190 countries. 

Leilani Farha, a human-rights lawyer and housing activist, said in a social-media post that she had asked the mayor to cancel the event — but for a different reason. 

She posted an email she sent to Sutcliffe's office, in which she wrote that the event would be "completely inappropriate and deeply hurtful" in light of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. 

The war began when Hamas militants breached Israel's defences on Oct. 7 and killed some 1,200 people, abducting another 250. Israel's months-long military offensive into the Hamas-controlled territory has now killed more than 34,800 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

Farha pointed to the rising number of deaths and the obstruction of humanitarian aid as reasons the city should take pause. 

"Based on this, I ask you — is it appropriate to be celebrating the State of Israel?" she wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press 

Simon Hopkins, The Canadian Press