‘Premier made no reference to Palestinian flag’: Doug Ford’s office rejects claims he mixed up Hamas and Palestinian flags

“Of course they can have opinions. Everybody can have an opinion,' political expert says about Ford's take on pro-Palestine protests

At the 2023 Spirit of Hope gala organized by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies last week in Toronto, Doug Ford showed support for the Jewish community and Israel in his address to the attendees.

“My friends we have 82 members down there and every one of them will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish community and Israel and we will never ever waiver,” Ford said with the applause growing louder in the background.

Additionally, the premier also shared his thoughts on the protests that have been taking place across major Canadian cities since the events of Oct. 7 which led to a full-blown war between Israel and Hamas.

“I call them hate rallies, going down the streets, trying to intimidate our Jewish communities...”

Ford went on to mention the “Hamas flag” in the same sentence, condemning the alleged support for a terrorist organization at peaceful protests taking place within Canada.

“... and they are hate rallies, when you are flying the Hamas flag, that’s hate. That is a form of hatred. And as I always say I don’t direct the police and I never will direct the police but that is a form of hate speech,” Ford said.

Clippings of the premier’s remarks on the ongoing protests and Hamas flag were shared wildly across the internet, leading many to think Ford referred to the Palestinian flag as Hamas’.

To a certain degree, the confusion among social media users is understandable given the protests across Canada have largely been used to call for ceasefire and saving civilian lives in Gaza, primarily using material highlighting Palestinian misery in the region. However, there have been mentions of rare sightings of controversial logos and signs like a Hamas flag being flown at a Toronto rally from Oct. 10 in some reports.

When enquired with the Office of the Premier of Office if Ford referred to the Palestinian flag as the Hamas flag, his press secretary told Yahoo News Canada, “the premier made no reference to the Palestinian flag in his remarks.”

“The premier condemned the waving of the Hamas flag seen at a rally and shared by B’Nai Brith Canada on October 10th,” Ford’s team said while sharing a link to an article published by Jewish human rights organization B’Nai Brith Canada via email.

The article by B’Nai Brith, features a picture of “a man waving the Hamas flag at a Toronto rally on Monday for the terrorist group as it attacked Israel.”

Hamas flag at a rally in Toronto on Oct 10 as claimed by B'Nai Brith in their article
Hamas flag at a rally in Toronto on Oct 10 as claimed by B'Nai Brith in their article

Yahoo News Canada followed up with the premier’s office to confirm if Ford’s team verified B’Nai Brith’s report and, therefore, the presence of a Hamas flag in the Toronto rally from Oct. 10.

Yahoo News Canada also enquired if Ford labelling the protests as “hate rallies” was a result of the same report by B’Nai Brith.

The Ontario Premier’s Office did not address the question on verification, only answering the latter and reiterating their commitment to build a “stronger and more inclusive Ontario.”

His comments were based on protests that have targeted Jewish-owned businesses in Toronto. Targeting and vandalizing businesses, organizations or places of worship of any faith is hateful and deeply troubling and should be condemned in no uncertain terms.Premier Doug Ford's press secretary

“We will continue working with all communities to build a stronger, more inclusive Ontario for all who call our province home, where everyone feels safe, welcomed and accepted. Yesterday, Premier Ford met with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Muslim Association of Canada to reaffirm this commitment.”

At this moment, Yahoo News Canada can neither confirm nor deny if a Hamas flag was waved at a rally on October 10 in Toronto.

While Ford may not have intended to conflate the two flags but it clearly wasn't perceived the same by many Ontarians.

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women told Yahoo News Canada Ford's remarks do no good to the "Palestinian call for liberation, justice and equality."

When Ford—a government official—inadvertently labels Palestinians as terrorists; the inhumane genocide of over 10,000 mainly civilian Palestinians in a matter of four weeks somehow seems justifiableCanadian Council of Muslim Women

"Everybody can have an opinion" on the war — including Ford, expert says

Canadian politics and government expert Nelson Wiseman told Yahoo News Canada while due diligence when sharing factual information makes for good practice, Ford has a right to express his opinion just like all other Canadians.

“Of course they can have opinions. Everybody can have an opinion. What we heard there was Ford’s opinion. And Ford is very uncomfortable with these rallies,” Wiseman explained.

“And I have seen reports claiming some of the people at these rallies actually are expressing the same position as Hamas which is that there should be no Israel. That’s what it means, ‘From the river to the sea’. Okay, so they are rallies and he has strong personal feelings.”

“And what he is denouncing in his gala speech is hate,” Wiseman added.

'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' is a slogan that has been used by pro-Palestinian protesters across the world to call for freedom from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, historically.

As the Canadian Council of Muslim Women notes, it's use doesn't necessarily signal support of Hamas, but refers to the geographical limits and daily restrictions that impact Palestinian lives.

'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' is a common slogan that means we will continue to fight for a future where Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and current-day Israel will live freely as equal citizens. This does not mean there should be no Israel, it means there should be no Israel where Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens or humans unworthy of human rights and dignityCCMW shared with Yahoo News Canada

To supporters of Israel, however, the slogan can be construed in an offensive way, equating the use of the term "free" with the suggestion that there should be no Jewish state in the region at all, according to a Jerusalem-based rabbi who shared his thoughts with Al Jazeera.

Canadian government and politics expert Nelson Wiseman weighs in on Doug Ford's comments labelling protests in Ontario as
Canadian government and politics expert Nelson Wiseman weighs in on Doug Ford's comments labelling protests in Ontario as "hate rallies"

When asked if Ford’s seemingly polarizing comments from the gala could have been better replaced by calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Wiseman stressed on the importance of the premier’s position aligning with the federal government’s and reminded of a ceasefire that was well in place before the acts of Oct. 7.

He’s not calling for a ceasefire. There’s nothing wrong with that from a political standpoint since it’s not the Canadian government’s position that there should be an immediate ceasefire. It’s not the American government’s position, it’s not the French government’s position, it’s not the British government’s position, it’s not the German government’s position. It is the position of a lot of governments.Nelson Wiseman, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto

“Now, there was a ceasefire. The ceasefire existed on Oct. 6 and it got broken on Oct. 7. So, who broke the ceasefire? He is entitled to say whatever he wants.”

On the contrary, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women believes Israel played a part in breaking the previously established ceasefire.

Hamas broke the ceasefire? Would you call it a ceasefire when there were violent incursions by Israeli forces on Palestinians worshipping at al-Aqsa mosque? When Israel continues to persecute Palestinians in the West Bank and embolden violent and illegal Israeli settlers? When Israel continues to subject Palestinians to apartheid policies? When Israel continues to trap two million Palestinians—half of whom are children, under a total blockade in Gaza, all in contravention of international law? It seems like Israel would like to continue to commit crimes against humanity with impunityCCMW

There have been multiple ceasefires following wars between Israel and Hamas in the past but they never lasted long before another escalation would activate, the latest one being in May 2021.

Israel's Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 following Hamas's win in the 2006 Palestinian elections, a 50-day war between Hamas and the state of Israel in 2014 and the latest conflict between the two in 2021 are all significant moments in history when ceasefires were called but did not result in a long term peaceful solution, only contributing to the loss of life in the troubled region and, therefore, solidifying the path to the tragic events of Oct. 7.