shaarei shomayim synagogue on Glencairn in north Toronto has been the target of hate before. Back in the late 80s, skinheads painted swastikas on the front doors.On this Monday night, though, it's a right-wing Jewish settler from Efrat, Itamar Marcus, who's doing the attacking -- he's tarring the Palestinians with the broadest of ideological brush strokes.
Marcus is director of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a self-described "independent, non-profit that examines the representation of the peace process and the approach to Israel and Jews in the Palestinian media and school curricula."
Israelis and Jewish communities across North America are feeling besieged. They feel they're losing a propaganda war. Some might say Marcus is here tonight in front of 500-plus people as a soldier in the PR effort to bolster the pro-Sharon forces.
What Marcus has to say about Palestinians and Palestinian society is not at all encouraging.
His spiel goes something like this: The Palestinian Authority (PA) is systematically indoctrinating children with anti-Jewish messages in summer camps, schools and textbooks and on television and radio in order to create a new generation of terrorists.
Two overriding messages among many subtle ones emerge from Marcus's talk: Palestinians have a "mandatory obligation to kill Jews" and are "prohibited to show mercy" in doing so; and Arafat is to blame for all of it.
Images from Palestinian television and newspapers projected on a large screen behind Marcus are meant to support his argument. The portrayal of Jews as scorpions and rats, among other things, is indeed repulsive.
Most of the material, like the clip of young Palestinian girls pledging to die as martyrs, has clearly been chosen for its sensationalist effect -- after all, as Marcus himself says later, "What can 10- and 11-years-old girls know?"
By this time in the program it's all a blur. Absent is any real attempt at analysis or at parsing the complexities inherent in Arab-Jewish relations.
There's no shortage of examples, and their cumulative effect is numbing. A few people seem to be put off by the deluge, but most are suitably, and not surprisingly, shocked. Their applause is boisterous.
Indeed. Marcus has been playing to large and very important crowds since September 11. He gave a private briefing to Jewish community leaders two days before his talk here.
He's a sought-after expert on the Arab world for both the U.S. government and legislators in the U.K.
Shaarei Shomayim rabbi Moshe Shulman credits Marcus and the PMW with turning North Americans against the Palestinian intifada and "helping Israel and the Jewish community come together under a single banner.
"We were losing the war, not on the ground but in the hearts and minds of freedom-loving people," Shulman says. "Over time we were able to shift the agenda."
The praise for Marcus is lavish. "Itamar, you bring the truth to the world, a truth many people don't want to hear."
However, among those in the U.S. and left-leaning Israeli press who've taken the time to test his claims -- in particular that Palestinian schools teach children to be martyrs -- the appraisal has been less flattering.
The New York Times sent Susan Sontag to visit a Palestinian classroom in Ramallah in September 2000, after a study published by Marcus on the subject for the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace.
Sontag found no evidence to substantiate his claims.
Akiva Eldar wrote in the left-leaning Jerusalem daily Haaretz last January that "the Palestinians are being rebuked where they should in fact be praised" for their textbooks and schooling, including their treatment of questions on Israel.
The article goes on to cite research conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace that books used in Palestinian schools are "freer of negative stereotypes of Jews and Israelis, compared to Jordanian and Egyptian books."
John Asfour of the Canadian Arab Federation says "it's pure fallacy" to suggest that Palestinian children are taught to hate Jewish people and to be martyrs. Such suggestions only perpetuate hatred in the Middle East.
"The psychology of going and seeking to die you have to have been pushed to the end of the abyss to get to a point where nothing, absolutely nothing matters any more. These are people who are not living under normal circumstances. There is a lot of poverty. There is a lot of pain. Why are we so surprised if we see anger manifested in that society? Why?" firstname.lastname@example.org