A snapshot of Canadian right-wing extremists’ discussions about the Israel-Hamas conflict

19 June 2024


This briefing outlines ISD’s analysis of reactions from rightwing extremists in Canada to the Israel-Hamas conflict. It is part of a research series looking at the impacts of the Israel-Hamas conflict on extremism, hate and disinformation in Canada.

This project has been made possible by the Government of Canada. All views are ISD’s own. Please note that, in line with our ethics policies, ISD does not link to extremist content, however, details of specific posts can be shared with select researchers upon request.  

Content Warning: This article contains discussion of graphic violence, including against children.


The following briefing details the themes that emerged from ISD’s analysis of conversations related to the Israel-Hamas conflict shared by accounts associated with right-wing extremism in Canada.

Key findings

  • Reactions were divided, with some groups and individuals attempting to frame any sign of support or solidarity for the people of Palestine with support for terrorism. This included framing all Palestinians as either members of Hamas or as Nazis, while claiming that supporting humanitarian aid in Gaza is a way to “fund Hamas”.
  • Other accounts clearly oppose Israel’s actions, often inspired by antisemitic hate or conspiracy theories. Others used the conflict as an opportunity to further anti-immigrant rhetoric, with some, again, invoking antisemitism in these discussions.

Methodology

The findings are based on a qualitative, observational analysis of posts mentioning the Israel-Hamas conflict by 54 accounts on Twitter, 91 accounts on Facebook (64 pages and 27 groups) and 47 Telegram channels that have been identified as associated with right-wing extremism in Canada.[1] In order to observe if narratives have shifted over the course of the conflict, the analysis was conducted on posts sent between October 7 2023, and November 7 2023, and between February 25 2024, and March 25 2024.  

Most prominent themes

Actors defending Israel’s actions who equate support for Palestine with support for terrorism

Several influential accounts, particularly on X, have taken a staunch pro-Israeli position since the attacks on October 7. A clear narrative from these accounts includes attempts to equate support for Palestinian civilians with support for Hamas, and therefore support for terrorism.

Among the top performing tweets about the conflict that were shared among right-wing extremists in Canada in the month after October 7 2023 were posts claiming that Justin Trudeau had directly funded the Hamas attacks through contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Similar claims about organisations “directly funding” Hamas were made about the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), alongside the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which widely shared posts within the dataset accused of trying to bring terrorists to Canada.[2] Similar claims about organisations “directly funding” Hamas were made about the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)alongside the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which widely shared posts within the dataset accused of trying to bring terrorists to Canada. 

This narrative remained consistent in discussions between February and March 2024 and expanded to include similar claims directed at other Liberal Party politicians including Ya’ara Saks and Marco Mendicino. Heather McPherson of the New Democratic Party (NDP) was also accused of being “pro-Hamas” and more dedicated to matters in Gaza than Canadian affairs in a number of highly engaged-with tweets.

The X account of anti-Muslim group Pegida Canada also expressed support for Israel’s actions and condemned those supporting Palestine as “protesting for the death of Jews and the Jewish state.”

Claims that law enforcement has a favourable approach to pro-Palestinian protesters

A prominent narrative within this dataset has been claims that the policing of protests related to the Israel-Hamas conflict has been inconsistent and that pro-Israel protesters had been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. This includes high traction posts on X comparing the allegedly favourable treatment of pro-Palestine protesters to the 2022 ‘Freedom Convoy’ led by Canadian truckers. This narrative remained consistent after October 2023, including accusations that the police response was a direct order from Justin Trudeau or liberal mayors. Discontentment with pro-Palestine protests was also evident in posts in Facebook groups, including claims that ‘Canada will soon be unrecognizable and filled with these religious extremists’.

Image 1. A post in an anti-Trudeau Facebook group criticising protest.

Various anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic narratives

Several posts attempted to align Palestinians with Nazis by sharing details of the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Amin al-Husseini, the former Mufti of Jerusalem. In the example seen in image 4, the narrative was used to frame Nazis and Palestinians as being aligned about the annihilation of Jews.

Image 2: A post sharing a photo of Adolf Hitler and the Mufti of Jerusalem.

Various anti-Israel and antisemitic narratives

Much of the anti-Israel sentiment expressed by the accounts analysed by ISD was rooted in antisemitism and ranged from the use of dog whistles (coded language) and conspiracy theories to explicit antisemitic hate. This is similar to the findings of previous analysis on antisemitism conducted by ISD following October 7.

Several Telegram channels associated with extreme right-wing content creators both hosted antisemitic material and amplified posts from influential international right-wing extremists and antisemites. Examples include users sharing a post from Irish activist and self-described antisemite Keith Woods, where he simply wrote “LOL” in response to reports that the Israel Defence Force would not evidence its claims about the alleged decapitation of babies by Hamas. Users in the group also shared a post featuring American extreme right activist Nick Fuentes where he criticised conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s reaction to the October 7 attacks, claiming that Shapiro believes that “the lives of Jews are worth more than the lives of non-Jews.”

Other posts shared in this channel in the month after October 7 included dehumanising content which referenced historic antisemitic blood libel tropes.

In other instances, antisemitic conspiracy theories were invoked, with one user on X encouraging people to “Google ‘Dancing Israelis’” – a reference to a 9/11 conspiracy theory that claimed Israel was responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks. Similar theories were invoked on Telegram, where a 13-minute video about the “Dancing Israelis” theory was shared, along with a video of Benjamin Netanyahu which suggests he knew about the 9/11 attacks before they happened. This particular video has been fact checked by Politifact which ranked the claims made as false.

Other Telegram channel users were more explicit in their hatred of Jews. In a post on March 28 2024, a user claimed that “Jews can value or devalue human lives as they see fit” and that “Israeli and Jewish influence” has brought “death and ruin…to the world.” The post says that it is the “responsibility of all warm blooded men and women to stand against these soulless monsters.” (see image 6).

Image 3: A post shared on Telegram by the channel Raging Dissident.

Israel-Hamas conflict used to promote anti-immigrant rhetoric

ISD noted several accounts that used the Israel-Hamas conflict to promote anti-immigrant rhetoric. This included the account The Ferryman’s Toll, which shared a post on X on October , 2023 that said “Israel will now respond with extreme brutality in Gaza…The displaced Palestinians will flee to and be accepted by Western nations. Sounds like a win, win, win for Israel.” This post alludes to the antisemitic Great Replacement theory, which claims that Jews are responsible for ‘mass immigration’.

Users on the Telegram channel Canada First also shared content involving such rhetoric in two successive posts on October 8 2023. These appeared to troll both Jews and Muslims and encourage both groups to return to their supposed homelands (see image 7).

Image 4: Two successive posts shared by Canada First on Telegram.

Conclusion

Our analysis demonstrates some key fault lines which cut across right-wing extremist communities and highlights the heterogeneous nature of these groups. In particular, the distinctions between those groups which are primarily motivated by anti-Muslim hatred and others which are driven by antisemitism become apparent. This is similar to trends observed in other contexts such as the UK. In addition, the diverse responses of the actors analysed demonstrate the ability of actors that are significant in the right-wing extremist community to leverage global crises to target communities and individuals they have bias against including Jews, Muslims, migrants, and high-profile politicians. These findings are informative for practitioners concerned with community safeguarding and depolarization. They also provide insight into the heterogenous make-up of the extreme right.

End notes

[1] Note that this list includes accounts that are not necessarily right-wing extremists, but are accounts which are either strongly linked into or widely shared by right-wing extremist networks in Canada.

[2] In January 2024, about a dozen countries (including Canada, the UK and the USA) paused their funding to UNRWA after an Israeli report claimed that dozens of the organisation’s employees were linked to Hamas and that 12 of them were involved in the October 7 attacks. While the UN took immediate action in relation to those found to be involved in October 7, the claims made by Israel that large numbers of the organisations staff are linked to Hamas remain unverified. 

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