Hamilton politicians speak out about Israel-Hamas war that has killed thousands on both sides


Published October 17, 2023 at 12:09 pm

mississauga woman gaza israel Palestinians Hamas war
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel toward the Gaza Strip, in a position near the border on Oct. 11. ERIK MARMOR/THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Some Hamilton politicians are publicly speaking out about the Israel-Hamas war while others are silent so far on social media about the highly divisive subject. Most who voiced their opinions offered their support for Israel without mentioning Palestinians. 

More than 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians were reportedly killed since the surprise attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7 that sparked the war. Considered terrorists in some countries including Canada, Hamas is a militant Islamist group that rules more than two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama received the most backlash among the politicians in Hamilton. The Ford government introduced a motion of censure yesterday (Oct. 16) accusing her of making “antisemitic and discriminatory statements” on social media, which she did not remove.

On Oct. 10, Jama called for “an immediate ceasefire” to the conflict, saying that the generations-long occupation of Palestine is “apartheid.” She included a quote that apartheid is “a political regime intentionally prioritizing fundamental political, legal, and social rights to one group over another in the same space on the basis of racial-national-ethnic identity.”

Although Jama offered an apology on Oct. 11 and clarified her remarks by stating she condemns the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, she didn’t retract her original statement when asked to do so by Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles.

Neil Lumsden, MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Ontario minister of tourism, culture and sport, denounced Jama’s comments today (Oct. 17) on X. “As many residents have said to me over the last several days, Ms. Jama does not speak for Hamilton. Let’s be clear. Anyone who makes comments attempting to rationalize the barbaric attacks committed by Hamas terrorists in Israel, has no place in the Ontario Legislature.”

Many Canadian politicians, including some in Hamilton, expressed their support for Israel since Hamas killed hundreds of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7.

“Horrifying news today about an attack in Israel. My heart goes out to everyone on the ground affected by these senseless acts of violence,” Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath wrote on Oct. 7. “My heart also goes out to the Israeli and Palestinian communities here in Hamilton who are mourning the destruction of their homelands and worrying about the wellbeing of friends and loved ones.”

Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko pinned his post on Oct. 7 that stated his solidarity with Israel.

In the post, he wrote: “With antisemitism spreading from extremists movements here in #HamOnt, across Canada (and) around the world – we must all stand together to condemn these terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.”

Some countries including Canada consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the United Nations has not sanctioned the group or designated it with that label.

Some people criticized Danko’s pinned post, pointing out the photo to a story linked in his post showed the Hamas-ruled Gaza being hit by Israel’s retaliatory airstrike.

“Please do not conflate Western antisemitism with the Palestinians’ fight for liberation. They are not the same,” wrote a user on X (formerly Twitter) named Jake Cob.

The post refers to what Palestinians and their supporters say are conditions imposed by the Israeli government that amount to discrimination and apartheid.

Israel and many in the Jewish community reject these accusations and point to Hamas’s brutal killings of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 as terrorist attacks that justify the need for Israel to defend itself.


Israel accused of ‘systematic racial oppression and discrimination’

A United Nations report from last year stated that “the political system of entrenched rule in the occupied Palestinian territory satisfied the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid.  First, an institutionalised regime of systematic racial oppression and discrimination has been established.” 

Amnesty International accused Israel of inflicting “immense suffering on Palestinians, depriving them of their basic rights” since the government’s occupation first began in 1967. In a 2022 report, the human rights organization said Israel’s “continuing oppressive and discriminatory system of governing Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) constituted a system of apartheid, and Israeli officials committed the crime of apartheid under international law.” Amnesty International says it’s “independent of any political ideology, economic interest or religion.”

In a phone interview with inthehammer.com yesterday (Oct. 16), Danko said he believes that his public statements and support of Israel on X was not “out of order or one-sided.”

He said his response was based on the direction coming from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Hamilton’s mayor to stand in solidarity with the Jewish population.

Trudeau stated on X that the Hamas attacks against Israel remind the world that “antisemitism has not gone away. Jewish communities across the country and around the world continue to face this hate every single day – and that’s something we will never accept.”

Trudeau said acts of violence are “completely unacceptable.”

“Canada strongly condemns the current terrorist attacks against Israel,” he wrote on Oct. 7. “We stand with Israel and fully support its right to defend itself. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this. Civilian life must be protected.”

Danko also reposted a statement from Steven Del Duca, mayor of Vaughan and former Ontario Liberal leader.

“The rallies being organized to show support for Hamas and its terrorist atrocities in Israel are reprehensible and have no place in Vaughan or in any other community across Canada. We stand with Israel and its right to defend itself,” Del Duca wrote on Oct. 9.

Other Hamilton politicians echoed their support for Israel.

“My thoughts and solidarity are with the people of Israel and the many Jewish residents who call Hamilton home. The violent act of terror by militant Hamas must be unequivocally condemned,” Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson wrote on Oct. 7.

“I continue to be horrified by the surprise terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens by Hamas and by the many lives lost because of them. Canada stands by Israel and fully supports its right to defend itself. Prayers for the families affected,” wrote Lisa Hepfner, MP for Hamilton Mountain and parliamentary secretary to the minister of women and gender equality and youth, on Oct. 9.

Filomena Tassi, Liberal MP for Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, echoed the sentiments of Trudeau on Oct. 7. “Horrified by the terrorist violence and attacks on Israeli civilians today. So many wounded, kidnapped, and murdered. Canada stands with Israel in this terrible moment.”

In response to the rallies and Hamas attacks, Lumsden, MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Ontario minister of tourism, culture and sport, reposted Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s statements on Oct. 8: ”The hate rallies celebrating the kidnapping and slaughtering of innocent Israeli people by terrorists are reprehensible and disgusting. They have no place in Ontario. Now more than ever, we stand with Israel and affirm its right to defend itself and its people.”

Ford added: “I unequivocally condemn the heinous terrorist attacks against Israel and Israeli citizens. We must stand firm in our support of Israel and its right to defend itself against violence.”

Hamilton councillor outspoken about war explains lack of statement on Palestinians

As for some accusing him of lacking sympathy for Palestinians in his posts so far, Danko gave inthehammer.com the following response: “The war was started by a terrorist attack on Israeli Jews so that has been the focus of my response to date.”

He noted he could change his response over time as events unfold and noted his constituency has a “fairly large Muslim and Palestinian population.” 

He expressed his sympathy for both Palestinian and Jewish victims of the war, saying he was concerned “for the health and safety of all citizens.”

“People that have had families impacted by it, these are tight-knit communities, whether Palestinians or Jewish. It’s something that has a profound impact on residents of Hamilton,” Danko told inthehammer.com. “The same grief the Jewish community is feeling is being felt by the Palestinian side. They face the unfortunate reality of war.”

On Oct. 15, he posted that calling for the elimination of Israel is “anti-Semitic hate and must be condemned.” He linked to a story about the recent pro-Palestinian protest in Hamilton.

“Freedom of expression and the right to gather are fundamental rights for all Canadians,” he wrote. “However, those freedoms have limits.”

Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, one of the organizers of the protest in Hamilton over the weekend, didn’t immediately respond to inthehammer.com‘s request for comments. It stated on its website that the protest was calling for a “comprehensive settlement to the Palestine/Israeli conflict, involving lifting the siege of Gaza.”

It noted that Christians, Jews and Muslims were “coming together to address the root causes of this conflict, namely the Israeli colonial project in Palestine, and to call for ending the siege of Gaza.”

“Your tweet is inflammatory, ignorant and misrepresents the actions of law abiding citizens you’re supposed to represent. Israel and its leaders have literally been calling for the (elimination) of Palestine for decades,” wrote Jeremy Freiburger (@FreiburgerJer), who describes himself as a Hamilton resident, father,  husband and cultural advocate, on X in response to Danko’s post.

“2384 Palestinians dead by official counts. Entire generations of families deleted from civil registeries. Nearly 1000 Palestinian children massacred in Gaza. While tens of thousands of Jews alongside gentiles rally against the #GazaGenocide, you tweet this? WARMONGERER,” wrote Vic Wojciechowski (@vic_woj), a communication studies and media arts grad student at McMaster University and president of CUPE Local 3906, which represents precarious academic workers at the university. 

Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls also weighed in on the conflict with a post expressing her support for the Jewish people on Oct. 8 on X. 

“I am saddened with what is going on in the Middle East.  I support the Jewish community and all of Israel and condemn all terrorist attacks,” she wrote.

In another post, she wrote about the “Together for Israel Solidarity Gathering.” She said the event “was sobering, realizing all the terror that Israel and Jewish communities have faced and are currently going through. Israel has the right to defend itself. We mourn, pray, and support Israel.”

“I’m 100% behind our support and sympathy for the innocent civilians in Israel who’ve lost their lives and face threats from organized terrorists. We cannot tolerate this. But, painting Israel as a choirboy is embarrassingly disingenuous. Focus on the civilians, not the state,” wrote Chris Sanislo (@chrissanislo) on Oct. 11 in response to her post.

“It’s tragic but one has to ask how did it get this way? Dig deeper,” wrote another user named Dave Avery (@Chickenleg1951).

Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann expressed her sympathy for both sides on Oct. 13.

“Canada must speak out against the violations of human rights and international law underway right now. This 24 hour order to evacuate, the use of white phosphorus, and retaliating against civilian infrastructure, homes, hospitals with 6000 bombs are all direct violations!”

She called for “an immediate ceasefire.”

“I stand for #Peace and for #Justice. I also recognize our Jewish and Palestinian neighbours in Hamilton are hurting and praying for their loved ones abroad. This is not a time to divide along ethnic lines. It is a time to embrace humanity.”

A war erupted following the surprise attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7 in southern Israel that claimed the lives of hundreds of Israeli civilians. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and is designated a terrorist group in some countries including Canada. The attacks were called the largest in Israel in decades. According to reports, 199 Israelis were taken hostage. Israel responded with airstrikes and a declaration of war, resulting in over 3,000 reportedly killed on both sides so far. Israel cut access to electricity, food, water and humanitarian aid as it plans a massive ground invasion in Gaza and urges 2.3 million Palestinians in the territory to evacuate to the south. At least six Canadians were killed during this recent conflict, including from the Hamas attacks.

Hamas reportedly said the operation that killed hundreds of Israelis on Oct. 7 was sparked by what it called Israeli attacks on women, the siege of Gaza and raids on one of Islam’s sacred sites, al-Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem in April.

-With a file from The Canadian Press

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