A group of about eight Montreal residents who attended a city meeting wearing small yellow badges in protest of Jewish school buses faced a wave of accusations of anti-Semitism. But their leader, Ginette Chartre, says they will not back down, the Canadian Press reported.
A growing Hasidic community in the Montreal borough of Outremont uses school buses to drop children off around the city, causing tension with neighbors who say the constant bus traffic causes congestion, noise and pollution, reported the Canadian Jewish News.
Chartre and other residents showed up at a public meeting to complain on March 5, wearing small yellow badges on their chests - a display some say evoked Nazi imagery.
Prior to the horrors of the Holocaust, the German government required Jewish people to wear six-pointed yellow badges bearing the word “Jude.” Propaganda leaflets were distributed to German citizens, saying “Whoever bears this sign is an enemy of our people,” according to the Holocaust Memorial Center.
There were many different versions of the badge, which was also required in occupied countries. Some had different spellings of Jude or no word at all - but nearly all were based around a yellow Star of David.
The protesters in Canada say there is no connection between their choice of protest attire and the historic connection between yellow badges and mass persecution of Jewish people.
“[The Jews] always bring up their painful past,” Chartre, a leader of the protest, told the Canadian Press. “They do it to muzzle us. We’re wearing the yellow square because the school buses are yellow.”
She said she and the protesters were not willing to remove them.
“We’ll march down the street wearing them, banging pots and pans if we have to,”she said. “We are living an injustice. We are being persecuted by them.”
Both Jewish and non-religious groups said the badges were not acceptable.
“The person who devised such a protest either has no knowledge of history whatsoever, or if they understood, they would surely have realized it was a horrendous way to express one’s opinion,” B’nai Brith Canada’s Steven Slimovitch told the Times of Israel.
“Those yellow squares evoke the dark history of the Holocaust,” wrote Coun. Lionel Perez, a leader of a local municipal party, according to the CBC. “If that was the intention, it is simply unacceptable, and we have to denounce gestures that plant seeds of division and hate.”
Montreal mayor Valérie Plante also said in a statement that it was “unacceptable to launch a political action against children,” the CBC reported.
Even during the meeting, some residents expressed their dismay at the protesters wearing the badges.
“We asked them to remove the yellow badges, but they continued to wear them,” one non-Jewish resident, who spoke out against the badges at the meeting, told the Canadian Jewish News. “There has to be some modicum of civility and we would have liked to have seen some empathy for the historical wounds of our Jewish neighbours who comprise almost 25 percent of the population in Outremont.”
Some people were simply resigned. One member of the Outremont Hasidic community told the Canadian Press the Jewish people “have been exposed to this stuff, some worse, some better, and it’s almost part of our existence, part of our being.”
Chartre told the Canadian Press she was unmoved by the opposition, and would continue wearing the badges. “Should we change the colour of school buses now because it reminds (Jews) of their past?” she told the news agency. “What about the yellow street markers on the roads? If we wore a yellow hat, would that be better?”