A demonstrator dressed as Spiderman costume waves a Palestinian flag above the entrance of Mount Sinai Hospital as the rally goes by. Photo: Joshua Best
A demonstrator dressed as Spiderman costume waves a Palestinian flag above the entrance of Mount Sinai Hospital as the rally goes by. Photo: Joshua Best

What happened outside Mount Sinai Hospital as a pro-Palestine rally passed by?

While the NFL Super Bowl was underway on Feb. 11, Israel was intensely bombing and conducting a ground invasion of areas of Rafah, the city at the south end of Gaza where over one million people are taking refuge. Palestinians, told by Israel to go to Rafah to remain safe, were being killed and dismembered there by Israeli bombs, and images of the devastation were being viewed around the world, including by family members in Canada.

So on Sunday night, the Palestinian Youth Movement Toronto and Toronto 4 Palestine called an emergency rally in Toronto for the next day, Monday Feb. 12, titled “Hands Off Rafah!” Those with family in Rafah, who they have not heard from in days, spoke at the rally in downtown Toronto, and there were calls to end the assault on the Palestinian city.

That rally has since come under intense scrutiny and has been denounced by Canadian politicians at all levels for what happened outside Mount Sinai Hospital, where protestors passed by for about 15 minutes in the course of the nearly four hour rally.

In this article, drawing on what I saw from attending the rally and from information gathered afterwards, I will describe what happened that day and with the wave of denunciations that followed.

The Route

The rally began at 5:30 p.m. at Yonge & Bloor, where the Israeli consulate is located. I arrived late, at 6:45 p.m., so I caught up while it was heading south along Yonge St. I handed out copies of The Grind, then walked with the rally until it ended around 9 p.m. at Yonge and Dundas. 

It was a relatively typical rally, with around 2,000 to 3,000 people walking through downtown Toronto streets chanting, holding signs and waving flags. There was a relatively large police presence blocking traffic on the sides and ends of the rally.

Chants were repeated throughout, many focusing on the current bombing of Rafah. “Hands Off Rafah! Hands Off Gaza!” There were also typical chants such as “Free Free Palestine, Within Our Lifetime!” and “There Is Only One Solution, Intifada Revolution!” (“Intifada” is an Arabic word for resistance or uprising against oppression).

The rally walking south on Yonge St. on Feb. 12. A protester (middle) holds an likeness of a body bag with the image of Hind Rajab on it, a six-year old Palestinian girl who was killed recently in Gaza City by Israel after her family was killed in a car with her and she sent a distress call. An ambulance crew was sent, and Hind was later found dead at the scene, as were two paramedics sent to help. Photo: Joshua Best

The truck leading the rally stopped for a while at the corner of College and Yonge before turning west onto College St. It then stopped again at the corner of College and University Ave., near Queen’s Park, before turning south on University. It is typical for these marches to stop at intersections to lead chants, wait for people to catch up, figure out where to go next, for people to give speeches (there were many speeches about Israel’s assault on Rafah during this rally), among other reasons.

Rallies for all types of causes have historically gone along the stretch of University south of College, which is where this protest went, and where a number of hospitals are located. The U.S. Consulate and Toronto City Hall, which are common protest sites, are located south of the hospitals, and Queen’s Park is north of them. This protest turned east onto Dundas and ended in front of the Eaton Centre, at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas, another common protest site.

Spiderman’s Flag Waving

At most pro-Palestine rallies I’ve been to, some participants get up high to wave the Palestinian flag from visible vantage points. Sometimes these are relatively low, such as on a mailbox or construction scaffolding, and sometimes they are higher, like on a bridge overpass, on top of a building, or harder-to-access spots. 

High above Dundas St., as the pro-Palestine “Hands Off Rafah!” rally goes by below on the street. Photo: spiderman4palestine Instagram.

During the Feb. 12 rally, the most visibly prominent flag waver from a height was an individual dressed up in a black Spiderman costume. I noticed that individual on several structures and buildings in the two-and-a-bit hours that I was at the rally. Looking at their Instagram stories, spiderman4palestine, and at other social media posts you could see at least eight structures this person was on. These included, in rough chronological order:

  1. A raised platform at Yonge and Bloor at the start of the rally, maybe construction scaffolding, along with numerous other people
  2. On top of a lamppost on Yonge St. at Charles St. 
  3. High on a lamppost on Yonge St. just south of Wellesley St.
  4. Above the under-construction awning of Mount Sinai Hospital on University Ave, with the help of at least two other people who were on the awning
  5. On top of a statue in the middle divider of University Ave., just south of Mount Sinai Hospital
  6. On top of a building on Dundas St., one block east of University Ave.
  7. On top of the Joey Eaton restaurant on Dundas St., just west of Yonge St., and then walking along on the overhang of the entrance to 1 Dundas St. W.
  8. A traffic light post at Yonge and Dundas
spiderman4palestine seen during the rally along Yonge St. Photo: spiderman4palestine Instagram.
On the Joey Eaton Centre restaurant, on Dundas St. Photo: spiderman4palestine Instagram.

There may have been others not in photos or videos seen yet by The Grind. The Spiderman figure has been a fixture at many previous rallies, climbing numerous structures.

The flag waving on Mount Sinai Hospital caught local and then national attention, with numerous organizations and politicians claiming it was antisemitic targeting of a Jewish hospital.

Mount Sinai Hospital

The hospital was founded in 1923 by Jewish immigrant women, and remains an important institution for many in the Jewish community. It is one of the few hospitals serving kosher meals to patients. A number of Jewish health care workers practice there, though the workforce is by no means exclusively Jewish. The proportion of the staff and patients who are Jewish is not clear from the website.

The front entrance of the hospital does not explicitly indicate it is a Jewish institution. The text on the hospital entrance reads, “Mount Sinai Hospital” and then in smaller font, “Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Health Complex.” There is a graphic that looks like a multicolour mix between a star and a circle, which might be a nod to the Star of David symbol, but the resemblance is not obvious, or at least hasn’t been to me when I’ve passed by.

Mount Sinai is a mountain in modern-day Egypt where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments, and the location is of importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The hospital is part of Sinai Health, is affiliated with the University of Toronto, and it accepts anyone as a patient, offering interpreters who can provide services in 45 languages. Sinai Health’s Vision, Mission, Purpose and Values do not say anything about it being a Jewish institution, though its “Our Legacy” section on the same webpage mentions its Jewish heritage.

I grew up in Toronto and have had family members treated in hospitals along University Ave. and it didn’t click while we were passing the hospital on the rally route that it is considered a Jewish institution.

Since spiderman4palestine began posting on Instagram last December, none of their post descriptions have mentioned Jews. The posts are pro-Palestinian and criticize Israel and Zionists for what is happening in Gaza and beyond. 

We asked spiderman4palestine for comment about what happened at the Feb. 12 rally but did not receive a response before publication, nor were we able to determine their real name.

Outside the Hospital

As the protest began heading south along University Ave., it was only taking up the southbound lane of traffic. Cars heading northbound were still moving, some very fast, and protesters were occasionally in some lanes of the northbound side. I remember worrying that somebody could get hit by an oncoming car.  

At the intersection of University Ave and Gerrard St., across from Mount Sinai Hospital, a number of participants moved into the left (northbound) lane to stop traffic moving that way. The protest had stopped traffic both ways previously on Yonge St. and on College St., as protests often do.

Police moved in to stop protesters from blocking the intersection at Gerrard St., seemingly intent on allowing cars to turn right and leave University Ave. through there. There was a brief standoff and pause, and then the rally’s marshalls moved the crowd out of the intersection. 

This is around the time when the 21-second video was taken of the person in the Spiderman costume climbing up the hospital entrance. The sub-section of the crowd visible in that video is hardly moving forward, which is something people have pointed to as evidence that the hospital was targeted. 

However, there was no announcement made by organizers that the rally was stopping intentionally at Mount Sinai Hospital, and the crowd left the area within about 15 or 20 minutes of arriving there. This is about as long as the crowd stayed at other intersections. It was definitely a shorter stay than at the intersections where it had started and where it would end. The total duration of the rally was a bit over three and a half hours.

spiderman4palestine climbing above the entrance to Mount Sinai Hospital on University Ave. Photo: spiderman4palestine Instagram.

There is a federal law, C-3, which deems it an offence for anyone who “intentionally obstructs or interferes with another person’s lawful access to a place at which health services are provided by a health professional.” As far as I saw while I was passing the hospital, the entranceway was clear and no one was stopped from entering or exiting the building. Other than vague mentions, I found no specific evidence that people were prevented from entering or exiting the building.

Update, Feb. 15, 11:06 a.m.: It has come to our attention that the University Ave. entrance to Mount Sinai Hospital closes at 6 p.m. daily. The protest passed by the hospital around 8 p.m., two hours after that entrance had closed. See the bottom of the map below for the University Ave. entrance hours, accessed today from the Mount Sinai Hospital website.

Map of the Mount Sinai Hospital Emergency Department entrance and walkways. The University Ave. entrance, closed at 6 p.m. is where the rally passed by around 8 p.m. and is the entrance that a group of around three participants climbed on top of the awning of to wave a Palestinian flag while the rally passed the area. Image credit: Mount Sinai Hospital.

Once the intersection of Gerrard and University began clearing, a few people walked south along University Ave. through the stopped or very slow-moving cars. Many drivers rolled down their windows to express support for the protesters’ cause. Others did not. 

I saw one incident, which may have been the one that went viral the next day. As I saw it from around 20 metres away, there was a brief argument between someone in a car and protesters who stood near the car. One person stood in front of the car with a Palestinian flag and others stood beside it. Within a minute or two, the crowd moved away from that car without further incident. I was not right there, and did not see everything and couldn’t hear what was said.

This is what Dr. David Jacobs, a vocal supporter of Israel, posted on X, formerly Twitter, the next day:

“With permission: A female Jewish doctor who was trying to drive home when the protest in front of Mount Sinai Hospital started said that her car was stopped by the crowd. There were demands by protesters that she honk her horn in support. When she asked protesters to move, they became angry, swarmed her car, and started banging on it. They linked arms to block her from moving. Eventually she was allowed to leave. Police saw what had happened, but told her that they were unable to do anything because the crowd was too large and there were only 2 of them. Police need adequate resources to manage these protests. #Toronto @TorontoPolice @oliviachow @MPPKerzner.”

Earlier in the rally, at Yonge and College, a supporter of Israel was filmed yelling “long live Israel” at the pro-Palestine crowd and then slaps the videographer’s phone out of their hands, knocking it to the ground. This happened a metre or two from a police car, and has received almost no attention from media and politicians so far. 

The Aftermath

What I’ve described so far are, to my knowledge, the moments at the protest that people have taken issue with. The protest finished around 9 p.m. at Yonge and Dundas, without incident, and then dispersed.

The protest has since been condemned by Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among many others.

Here, I will briefly try to trace how that happened.

Photos and videos were being posted by many of of the rally’s attendees, during and after.

The first post critical of the rally that I can find is from Dr. Jacobs at 9:50 p.m. on X, about two hours after the fact. It is a grainy video showing people on — and coming down from — the entrance awning of Mount Sinai Hospital, with the crowd chanting a typical chant about intifada. 

The description reads: “This is Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada. The hospital was established because Jewish doctors had no place to train or work due to anti-semitism. Tonight a crowd is chanting for violence against Jews outside this place of healing. #antisemitism #BillC3 @SinaiHealth.”

While some claim intifada means violence against Jews, it is more concretely and specifically understood as Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. There were also many Jews present at the rally and previous ones as participants, who are familiar with these chants, and who do not agree with Dr. Jacob’s categorization. (More on this later in the article).

At 10:25 p.m., Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, posted on X: “Tonight, the anti-Israel mob decided to pay a visit to Mount Sinai Hospital. I wonder who they were targeting? The patients, or the families there to comfort them? The nurses, docs or first responders saving lives? Or maybe just the Jews, because Mount Sinai Hospital, right?”

The photo Levitt used was first posted by Anna Lippman, a Jewish participant in the rally who is critical of Israel (and who has previously written for The Grind). Levitt’s reposting of the photo is made without attribution to Lippman, and has been circulated by others, also without attribution. It is used as the header image of this article with Lippman’s permission.

Photo of person on top of the entrance to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto at night, having a Palestinian flag.
spiderman4palestine waves a Palestinian flag above the entrance of Mount Sinai Hospital, one of at least eight elevated spots they climbed to in the course of the rally on Feb. 12. Photo credit: Anna Lippman.

Around three hours after the rally passed by, Dr. Raghu Venugopal posted a live video at 10:57 p.m. outside Mount Sinai Hospital, denouncing the rally for protesting on hospital grounds.

By the next morning, Tuesday, Feb. 13, a number of accounts posted the 21-second video from spiderman4palestine’s Instagram showing them climbing on the Mount Sinai entrance. Dr. Jacobs posted it at 9:38 a.m. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) posted it (along with Lippman’s photo) at 10:53 a.m., and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) at 10:57 a.m. The framing of each post is that this was antisemitic targeting of Jews. 

Politicians, pundits and reporters started posting before and after that. 

Marco Mendicino, a Liberal MP in Toronto and outspoken supporter of Israel and its current offensive in Gaza, retweeted Dr. Jacobs’ grainy video (first posted the night before) at 7:44 a.m., saying: “Targeting Mount Sinai Hospital to incite intifada against Israel and the Jewish people is flagrantly antisemitic and undermines the health and safety of the patients and medical professionals who work there. The torrent of hatred against Jews and Jewish institutions must stop!” 

Mendicino’s tweet was reposted at 8:30 a.m. by Debra Lyons, Canada’s Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. 

She wrote: “We will be calling Toronto’s Mayor and Chief of Police today to discuss how they will put a stop to this despicable targeting and attempted intimidation of Mount Sinai Hospital and Jews across Toronto and Canada. Leaders — at all levels — need to make clear that this is absolutely unacceptable. It is antisemitic, it is illegal and it is indecent.”

Trudeau posted on X at 12:49 p.m. Ford commented when asked at a press conference during the day and the clip was posted by CTV at 1:19 p.m. Chow posted on X at 2:33 pm. 

Numerous other politicians posted their denunciations of the protest throughout the day, such as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Ontario Liberal leader Bonnie Crombie, who claimed, without presenting evidence, that protesters “infiltrated” the hospital.

Major media headlines from Feb. 13 include:

Toronto Star: Protest outside Mount Sinai Hospital ‘reprehensible’ show of antisemitism: Trudeau, and Police investigating amid backlash over pro-Palestinian protesters outside Mount Sinai Hospital

National Post: Police investigating after Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital targeted by Pro-Palestinian protesters

Toronto Sun: LILLEY: Terrorist supporters harass hospital patients in Toronto, and WARMINGTON: Pro-Hamas supporters surrounding Jewish hospital a hate crime

Globe and Mail: Toronto police to investigate pro-Palestinian march outside Mount Sinai Hospital

CP24: Mount Sinai Hospital protest: Trudeau responds

CTV: Mount Sinai Hospital protest: Police investigating

Global: Trudeau condemns protest at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, calls it ‘reprehensible’ 

CBC: Toronto police increase presence along hospital row after pro-Palestinian protest

Update, Feb. 14, 12:31 p.m.: several articles were just added to the above list which were published on Feb. 13 but which we did not find until the next day.

Anti-Zionist Jews Respond

Jews Say No To Genocide Coalition, which includes several groups of Toronto Jews who are opposed to what Israel is doing in Gaza, took to Instagram to respond to Trudeau’s tweet, writing: “This is anti-Palestinian racism. This is a distraction from genocide. Do not let our government and media stop us from having #AllEyesOnRafa.” 

In response to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre thanking Trudeau for his statement on X, Independent Jewish Voices wrote in response:

“Quickly, how was the hospital ‘targeted,’ and what actual damage to Jewish individuals and communities took place? From where we’re standing, this ‘vile display’ looks pretty kosher. Antisemitism isn’t just a rhetorical cudgel you can use against people you disagree with. It’s not a specter summoned by the Palestinian flag. To combat actual antisemitism in Canada, we have to be clear about its meaning and impact. Toronto’s protest was not antisemitic.”

Comment from Organizers

Update, Feb. 14, 12:02 pm: The organizers of the rally released a statement at 6:30 a.m., after this article was first published. Parts of the statement are included after the original text and screencap.

Neither of the groups which organized the protest, the Palestinian Youth Movement Toronto and Toronto 4 Palestine, responded to our requests for comment before publication time. Palestinian Youth Movement Toronto made an Instagram post around 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 13 with photos from the rally and a description, pictured below.

Instagram post from Palestinian Youth Movement Toronto on the evening of Feb. 13, the day after the rally.

The two groups released a statement on Feb. 14 about the protest, co-signed by Jews Say No To Genocide. It reads, in part: “The protest marched from the Israeli Consulate for four hours, and concluded at Yonge-Dundas Square, passing many buildings and monuments across the city, with some attendees climbing structures and scaffolding to raise the Palestinian flag at various points along the way: none of which were targeted. The narrative taken up this morning by Zionist institutions and Canadian politicians – including the Prime Minister, the premier of Ontario, and the Mayor of Toronto – suggesting that this protest was planned for and took place outside of a hospital, is patently untrue and encourages a racist and limited view of Palestinian liberation movements; we are not in the streets to target anyone, we are demanding an end to the genocide and occupation of the Palestinian people. It is astonishing that the various news outlets that attended and reported on yesterday’s peaceful protest are today reporting on an entirely different set of fabricated events.”

The statement says the groups aim to continue to hold Canada accountable, and point out that “Since October, the Trudeau government has authorized $28.5 million of new military exports to Israel.” This was reported on Feb. 10 by The Maple, contradicting recent government statements that it has not approved weapons sales to Israel.

“We ask every Canadian politician who made false statements about what occurred at Monday’s rally,” the statement concludes, “as well as every media outlet that peddled the fabricated story of a ‘Mount Sinai Hospital protest’ to immediately retract and issue corrections to their stories so that the Canadian public can know the truth, and pro-Palestine protesters can re-focus our efforts on Palestinian liberation and the end to this horrific genocide.”

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