Olivia Chow refuses to attend Israeli flag-raising ceremony calling it “divisive”
Olivia Chow refuses to attend Israeli flag-raising ceremony calling it “divisive”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow won’t support Israel by refusing to attend the City Hall flag-raising ceremony marking the nation’s anniversary of independence.

A representative of the City of Toronto told True North in an email that the Israeli flag has been raised at City Hall for over a decade.

In an email to a constituent, a representative from Chow’s office clarified that the mayor has no power to decide whether or not the flag was raised.

“The mayor did not decide to fly the flag and does not have the authority to approve or deny flag-raising requests,” the representative said. “The mayor will not attend the flag raising. She believes raising it is divisive at this time and understands the deep pain and anguish felt by many in the community.”

The city has a flag-raising program where non-profits can request that a flag be raised on the “courtesy flag pole” on the City Hall roof. Toronto approved one such request from the Consulate General of Israel to raise the Israeli flag, as part of its observance of Israel’s Independence Day.

May 14 is the day Israeli-Canadians celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, marking the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.

Independent MP Kevin Vuong attended the flag-raising ceremony and criticized the mayor’s absence.

“While Mayor Olivia Chow hides from the mob, let me be clear: Toronto stands with Israel and the Jews who call our city home,” he said on X. “As two democracies, Canada and Israel must stand together.”

On Saturday night, days before the mayor’s refusal, the logo of a militant branch of Hamas, the Al Qassam Brigades, was projected onto the University of Toronto’s medical sciences building from the encampment while protesters whistled in approval.

Salman Sima, a survivor of torture at the hands of the Iranian state,  and a frequent pro-Israel protester, was appalled at the mayor’s decision at a time when he felt Jewish Torontonians needed support.

“This sent a message to the jihadist and anti-semitic mob that if you intimidate us, we are afraid, and we cave,” Sima told True North in an interview. “This was a cowardly message, and by not participating in the raising-the-flag ceremony…it’s going to encourage the jihadist crowd to break the law more and more, unfortunately.”

At a New Year’s skating event at Nathan Philips Square in January, Chow told protesters she was on their side as they disrupted her speech with calls for a ceasefire.

Prior to that, she called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas along with the release of all the hostages taken by Hamas a month in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

This was Israel’s first independence day since the attack.

“It was at the beginning of the conflict. (Chow) called for a ceasefire,” Sima said. “A ceasefire in the Middle East is an international issue, and it’s not the mayor of Toronto’s job. (Calling for) ceasefire is a pro-Hamas position which means that we give more time and more opportunity to Hamas terrorists to rebuild themselves.”

Conversely, Sima thinks that it is the job of the mayor to be at an event which affirms Israel’s right to exist to show support to the Jewish community in Toronto.

“Raising the flag of Israel is special for the Jewish community. And it’s important for standing with the Jewish community against antisemitism,” he said. “Antisemitism is a hate crime, and the Toronto Mayor failed to stand against hate…by not participating in this traditional ceremony.”

In August last year, Chow stated on X that the Pride flag was an “important symbol of hope and community.” Recognizing how that flag could make those identifying with it feel safe, welcome and accepted.

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