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Jewish organizations demand action after Montreal Jewish school hit by gunfire

MONTREAL — Jewish advocacy organizations on Thursday called on authorities to act to protect their communities after bullet holes were discovered at a Jewish school in Canada for the second time in a week.
A man walks past the Bell Yeshiva Katana school in Montreal on Thursday, May 30, 2024. Police are investigating after shots were fired at the building. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — Jewish advocacy organizations on Thursday called on authorities to act to protect their communities after bullet holes were discovered at a Jewish school in Canada for the second time in a week.

Montreal police were investigating after a building housing a Jewish school and synagogue in the city's largest borough was allegedly hit by gunfire, only days after a Toronto Jewish girls school was also the target of a shooting. Nobody was hurt in either incident.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center described the shooting in Montreal as "the latest in an unrelenting wave of antisemitic incidents in Canada since last Oct. 7," the day the Israel-Hamas war was triggered by a deadly Hamas attack on Israel.

"Immediate and decisive action is required to ensure the safety and security of Jewish communities across Canada," CEO Michael Levitt said in a statement. "We call on all levels of government to implement urgent and comprehensive measures to protect Jewish Canadians."

Montreal police responded after they received information that projectile impacts were visible on the school located on Hillsdale Road in the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough. Police arrived at the school at around 6 p.m. Wednesday and discovered signs of two bullets having hit the front of the school.

The Jewish Community Council confirmed the alleged shooting occurred at the Belz school, which is located at the Young Israel of Montreal Synagogue. On Thursday, a police car was parked outside, and what appeared to be a bullet hole could be seen in the glass of the building's door.

Police said they're not sure when the shooting occurred. No suspects had been identified as of Thursday afternoon.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the violence and promised that law enforcement was working to ensure those responsible would be caught.

"I was of course relieved that no one was hurt, but I'm disgusted by these vile and despicable acts of antisemitism. It needs to stop now," he said in Toronto. "To Jewish parents and students across the country, we stand with you. We will always work to safeguard your right to live proudly Jewish lives in Canada."

The shooting was discovered less than a week after Toronto police said shots were fired at the Bais Chaya Mushka Elementary School, and months after similar incidents at other Montreal Jewish institutions in the weeks following the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Montreal police announced last week they had arrested a 20-year-old man in connection with gunshots that were fired at a Jewish school in the city in November. The Crown prosecutor's office says Abdizarak Mahdiahmed has been charged with discharging a firearm with intent and mischief, as well as auto theft and possession of stolen property.

A separate Jewish school in Montreal was also targeted by gunfire and a synagogue in the city's suburbs was firebombed in late 2023. Nobody was hurt in those incidents.

Jewish organizations Federation CJA and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued a joint statement Wednesday night condemning the news of the shooting and calling on Montreal's municipal leadership to do more to combat antisemitism.

"We have had enough. Yet another Jewish school was shot at in the middle of the night — in Canada," Federation CJA president Yair Szlak and CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin wrote. "Thankfully no one was inside the building, but this violent hatred must no longer be tolerated."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also condemned the shooting.

"We are witnessing a terrifying escalation of antisemitism in this country," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "The Trudeau government must step up and finally do something to protect Jewish people in Canada against this violence."

The Jewish Community Council of Montreal called for an increased police presence as well as changes to the federal security infrastructure program, which provides funding for communities at risk of being victimized by hate-motivated crimes.

It recommended the Canadian government give more institutions access to the program and cover a larger percentage of the costs, depending on the size and capacity of the institution, to allow smaller places to buy equipment such as security cameras.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre and CIJA were less specific in their demands towards authorities. However, both took aim at the pro-Palestinian encampments that have been erected on various university campuses, suggesting they are contributing to antisemitism.

“For months and months, we've been seeing on our streets and university campuses the open promotion and glorification of violence against Jews,” Levitt wrote. “History has taught us that what starts with words often leads to violence, and that’s the dark reality Jews in Canada are facing today.”

In an emailed response, Yudin described the encampments as “toxic and hateful,” writing “chants of hate and antisemitism should not be the daily reality in our streets.”

Encampment members have denied their protests are antisemitic, and say they're aimed at denouncing Palestinian deaths and calling for their schools to divest from Israel.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press