Hundreds of Torontonians gathered for a roundtable discussion on the suppression of pro-Palestinian voices at schools, university campuses and workplaces last Friday.

The organizations Jews Say No To Genocide Coalition, Palestinian Youth Movement, Health Workers Alliance for Palestine and Toronto Palestinian Families held the event at a church in the Yonge and Dundas Square area under the slogan “We will not be silenced.”

A long list of professionals who have expressed solidarity with Palestine in recent months have faced punishment or termination. We For P, an American non-profit pro-Palestinian organization, recently found that 67 per cent of professionals who were surveyed by the group were exposed to “retaliation or intimidation” for expressing solidarity with Palestine.

Five panelists at the Toronto event spoke about the importance of solidarity and shared ways to combat the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices. The panelists stressed that those navigating the challenges that come with expressing pro-Palestinian views in professional contexts should not feel alone.

Gur Tsabar, a member of the Jews Say No To Genocide Coalition, said: “You have a massive community of people here, and experts who know this pattern of behaviour. So, do not let it scare you. Do not feel like you are alone. Just pick up the phone. Call. We are here to help one another.”

Tsabar said that his group’s goal was to raise awareness about “anti-Palestinian racism” across the city. He explained that some of those who speak up for Palestine or are themselves Palestinian are losing their jobs or being ostracized at school. “It is unacceptable,” he said.

“We are seeing the impact that the Zionist lobby is having on all these institutions, and we decided that this was the time to speak up and start driving our narrative about all the harm that is being caused,” Tsabar told The Maple.

In November, The Maple published a list of some people who were fired from their jobs for publicly expressing pro-Palestinian views since October 7. Those listed were only some of the many similar instances that have occurred in Canada in recent months.

Tsabar said many university professors cannot speak up about their solidarity with Palestine, and medical students who signed a solidarity letter said that their careers have been negatively impacted as a result.

Backlash against expressions of solidarity with Palestine is often accompanied by charges of antisemitism.

​​The United Jewish Appeal Federation (UJA) said in December that it collaborated with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and other pro-Israel groups to document “antisemitic incidents.”

In a press release, the group said that it “immediately” shares such incidents with the authorities when it believes it has sufficient evidence to “enable action from law enforcement.”

But the Jews Say No To Genocide Coalition and the Palestinian Youth Movement say this work is tainted by a pro-Israel agenda.

“These organizations prioritize the political objectives of the Israeli state over actual safety for Jewish communities,” the groups said in a joint media release published earlier this month.

School students have also been concerned about expressing support for Palestinians.

Zaid Zawaideh, a panelist representing Palestinian families and a TDSB parent organizer, said that Palestinian students should be able to express their whole identity and talk about their history without fear at school.

However, “they are not able to do that in our school system because the whole TDSB, as well as the Ministry of Education, have created a culture of fear and oppression for Palestinians and their allies,” Zawaideh told The Maple.

Zawaideh said that seven to eight-year-old children have been called to principals’ offices because they talked about what happened to their relatives in Palestine or wore a keffiyeh — the black-and-white headscarf that has long been a symbol of solidarity with Palestinians.

“It is not okay for a child to be bullied by an adult for expressing fear for people they care about or for expressing their identity,” he added. “We need the TDSB to uphold its equity policies for our students.”

In January, organizations representing Jewish, Muslim and Palestinian communities joined forces to condemn the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) for allegedly instructing its employees to surveil and report Ontario school students for criticizing Israel.

Rising Death Toll In Gaza

While those who try to talk about Palestine are silenced in classrooms, campuses and workplaces, the death toll continues to rise in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s brutal war on Gaza has killed at least 29,600 Palestinians and wounded over 69,000 since October 7. Israel has killed at least 100 people across central and southern Gaza in the past three days.

“I see so much unfair distortion and manipulation and lying to silence people who are speaking the truth about what Israel is doing to Palestinians,” said Rabbi David Mivasair, an organizer with Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). “This is very widespread, and I want to be part of fighting against it.”

Many individuals and organizations that have protested Israel’s war on Gaza have had their actions distorted with factually inaccurate or misleading claims made by politicians and media.

After the “Hands Off Rafah” protest in Toronto on February 12, pro-Israel voices falsely accused demonstrators of targeting Mount Sinai Hospital and doing so because of the institution’s Jewish origins.

Those who made such claims cited an image of a person wearing a Spider-Man costume who had climbed atop scaffolding outside the hospital while waving a Palestinian flag.

The Grind debunked these claims, showing that the protestors passed by the hospital for approximately 15 minutes during the course of the four hour march, following a common practice whereby such protests pause at various points and intersections along the planned route.

As well, The Grind found that the Spider-Man costume wearer climbed atop at least eight structures during the march, with no evidence that they climbed the hospital, or any other building, because of its Jewish origins.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau falsely characterized the march as a “demonstration at Mount Sinai Hospital,” calling it “reprehensible” and a “display of antisemitism.”

Jews Say No To Genocide Coalition published a joint statement with IJV rejecting such allegations, including those that were repeated in a letter signed by a group of hospital CEOs.

“After more than 135 days of bloodshed, these hospitals have remained silent despite all the evidence that Israel has repeatedly bombed hospitals, clinics, and ambulances, killing and wounding paramedics, nurses and physicians,” the joint statement read.

“Right now there is imminent risk to the people of Palestine and these hospitals put Palestinians in Toronto and their supporters at risk by making false accusations against them.”

After the roundtable discussion, panelists encouraged non-profits and supporters of Palestine to remain organized against propaganda and manipulations.

“Do not get discouraged. Do not give up. Find allies. Join organizations. Talk with other people,” Mivasair said.

Nur Dogan is a Turkish-Canadian freelance journalist and photojournalist who covers stories for New Canadian Media.