Hate crimes unit investigating after two men assault man holding Israel flag

Authorities are investigating after video surfaced on social media showing an elderly man holding a flag of Israel and being accosted and assaulted by two young men while walking from an Israel Independence rally on Thursday.

Montreal police confirmed an investigation is ongoing with the force's hate crime section after a report two young men stopped a man on Ste. Catherine St. West and allegedly assaulted him, before assaulting a bystander who try to intervene.

The incident took place at the corner of Wood Avenue in the City of Westmount, a Montreal suburb.

The video shows the young men trying to pull the flag out of the man's hands and then hitting him in the head with a stick. A bystander intervenes and is also assaulted, before the two men flee the area on foot.

"The old man was hurt, but he's fine now," said SPVM spokesperson Mariane Allaire Morin.

Liat Lev-Ary was across the street on the third floor and began recording the altercation on her phone while her husband, Dan Goldstein, went to the street to intervene.

When Goldstein shouted that he was calling the police, the two suspects fled.

SPVM officers interviewed witnesses on the scene and are searching for the men.

Dawson College, which is one block north of the intersection of where the assault occurred, is also investigating to determine whether the assailants are students.

"It is a serious matter, and we need to absolutely sure of what happened and who these people are," said Dawson communications advisor Christina Parsons.

Lev-Ary was upset by the event as multiple people stood by while the altercation was ongong.

"What's very disturbing to me, aside from this senseless act, is that people stand by and don't do anything," she said.

Marvin Rotrand, the national director of B'nai Brith Canada's League of Human Rights, said it is clear that the alleged crime was motivated by negative feelings towards Israel.

"In our estimation, we've just witnessed a hate crime," said Rotrand. "This is a definite crime targeting somebody who was coming back from the Israel Day rally."

Rotrand said the rally in question was peaceful and included around 10,000 people of multiple ethnicities. He said he's angry to see the video tarnish the positive mood around the event.

"People left the rally with a very good feeling," he said. "And here this guy is getting attacked right on the street for no other reason than he has a folded Israeli flag... This is an unacceptable incident right in the middle of the day."

The incident, Rotrand said, is part of a disturbing rise in antisemitic acts fueled by negative feelings towards Zionism and the state of Israel. The organization audits acts of antisemitic annually.

In 2021, the organization recorded 2,799 antisemitic incidents in Canada, a 7.2 per cent increase from 2020. That included 828 in Quebec, the highest number in the country.

The audit breaks down antisemitic acts to harassment, vandalism and violence. Violent acts across Canada jumped from nine in 2020 to 75 in 2021.

Thirty-six of those were in Quebec, according to B'nai Brith.

"It's got to be nipped in the bud," said Rotrand. "Police departments have to do a better job identifying antisemitic and reacting to it, and politicians have to do more about it."

A spike in numbers occurred in 2021 during the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, when protests resulted in violence directed at demonstrators.

"Quebec authorities need to be alarmed," said Rotrand.

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