MONTREAL (Sep. 7)
Canadian politicians are condemning the firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal. Quebec Premier Jean Charest called Wednesday on all Quebec residents to stand with the Jewish community against hate crimes, such as Saturday’s attack on the Taldos Yakov Yosef school.
“I think it is important that all Quebec see very clearly on this issue that we are a society of tolerance, that we are a society that encourages free speech and that we should not and cannot tolerate these kinds of acts,” Charest said.
A video that captured the attack showed a masked man throwing a Molotov cocktail through a school window. The cost of repairs plus a new security system is estimated at around $135,000.
In April 2004, the library of another Jewish school in Montreal, United Talmud Torah, was firebombed. The perpetrator was released from prison on parole earlier this year after serving two-thirds of his term.
The first of several politicians to condemn the Saturday attack, Charest also praised Jews’ role in Quebec.
“We place a very high value on the place that the Jewish community has in Quebec. We have this ability to attract people from all over the world. I don’t think we want to lose that. So, when these things happen it is important for all Quebecers to speak in one voice to denounce it,” he said.
Police are unclear whether the attack on the school, which serves a fervently Orthodox community, was a hate crime or simply vandalism.
But Jeffrey Boro, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region, noted at a news conference Tuesday at Montreal Federation CJA that the attacker “did not choose a mosque or a Catholic church” to commit his act.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron and co-chairman of the Montreal Jewish Security Advisory Committee, was asked if the attack could be labeled a hate crime.
“The very rarity of a school being firebombed leads us to believe it is an act motivated by hate,” Poupko said. “But declaring something a hate crime is a legal matter.”
Poupko didn’t dismiss the possibility that recent anti-war protests in Montreal held “under the flag of Hezbollah” may have contributed to the attack. The protests drew more than 15,000 people, including political leaders from a cross-spectrum of provincial and federal parties, who roundly condemned Israel.
Poupko sought to assure community members that they can “go about their business,” adding that “everything possible has been done to assure the safety of our community.”
School director Binyomin Mayer said those inside and outside the Jewish community had been surprisingly slow to offer assistance.
“I feel it’s because Chasidim are believed to ‘look after ourselves,’ ” Mayer said. “I can only respond that we, too, are part of the Montreal community. We add plenty to the community and we, too, have our place here. Right now, we can use help.”
Mayer admitted things were difficult for the school’s students, ages 3 to 17.
Psychologists have been engaged to help students cope, he said. No additional security has been posted, however.
“Small children are involved and they have been affected by this,” Mayer said. “They take this as if they have been personally targeted, and wake up in the middle of the night crying. Why this happened we do not know and we hope it won’t happen again.”
The school has 270 students from within a community of 250 families, representing a Chasidic sect originating from the Ukraine.
After Charest, other politicians also spoke out. Andre Boisclair, leader of the opposition Parti Quebecois, denounced the act in a letter to the school.
“We unequivocally condemn this crime. It is unacceptable for such acts to be committed. Tolerance and respect are values I hold dear and which are present in the hearts of all Quebecers,” he wrote, according to the Montreal Gazette.
Scott Brison, a Liberal Party legislator from Nova Scotia who is vying for leadership of the federal party, visited the school Wednesday and inspected the damage.
He described the attack as “barbaric,” adding that it was “by the grace of God that no children” were killed. “If you did not see it, you would not really appreciate how close it really came.”