Four Jewish-owned properties in Montreal have been fire bombed in the past two weeks, leaving the Canadian Jewish community jittery, especially since the crimes have not been solved.
Bill 613, a blog serving Montreal’s Orthodox Jewish community, reports that the latest target was Kitchen Wholesalers, a kitchen supply store hit late Friday night with two Molotov cocktails. Owner Joe Aisenstark didn’t learn of the attack until the Jewish Sabbath ended, because as an observant Jew he doesn’t answer the telephone on Saturday and didn’t get the message from investigators until many hours after the attack.
Zvi Hershcovich of the blog Bill 613 posted pictures of the aftermath. Luckily the sprinkler system was activated, containing what could potentially have resulted in widespread damage.
The blog Bill 613 describes the attacks over the past two weeks which preceded the kitchen store targeting:
Café Shalom, a Kosher restaurant on Queen Mary St. was firebombed with two Molotov cocktails in the early hours of June 7th. On June 8th, at the same early hour, there was an attempted firebombing on the home of Reza Tehrani-Cohen, a Jewish businessman living in the Cote St Luc area of Montreal. The material found in his home was similar to the Cafe Shalom firebomb.
On June 9th, for the third night in a row, a Jewish business was hit with a Molotov Cocktail, just like the other ones. Except this time it was attacked around midnight, and this time there were 30 patrons in the restaurant.
Witnesses reported two masked men rushing into Chops, a Kosher restaurant two blocks from Café Shalom, throwing the Molotov cocktail, and running out.
Diner Alex Fyon who was paying his bill when the Chops Resto-bar attack occurred said, “Thank God he didn’t throw the firebomb at the table in front of him where 15 people were sitting or there would have been serious injuries.” Thirty people were in the restaurant when the Molotov cocktails were thrown in, but none were injured according to media accounts.
Hershcovich told TheBlaze by telephone from Montreal that while his blog normally covers community news like births and weddings, the fire bombings “became quite a story.”
“Some people are concerned...people told me they were worried,” he says.
The Jewish organization B’nai Brith Canada is calling on Montreal Police to work intensely to find the culprits.
“The police must explore every avenue of investigation and put an end to these attacks,” said Steven Slimovitch of B’nai Brith Canada.
“…Our concern for the safety and welfare of the community is high. The Police must take concrete steps to reassure the community that their safety is not in jeopardy,” he added in his statement.
A Montreal Police spokesman tells the Jewish publication The Algemeiner that authorities do not believe the motivation for the crimes is anti-Jewish bigotry.
“It appears this is a matter of competition between business places right now more than based on any ethnic or religious reasons right now,” the spokesman said.
The National Post reports that Montreal police believe that the first three incidents had “different MOs,” even though all involved Molotov cocktails, and that investigators believe the attacks were not carried out by the same perpetrators.
But Reza Tehrani-Cohen whose home was firebombed says investigators told him the materials found at his house matched materials found at the two targeted restaurants, according to the Post.
Another Jewish group echoed the police assessment, suggesting these were not hate crimes.
“It is easy to assume that these incidents may be anti-Semitic or hate inspired events,” said the Montreal-based Combined Jewish Appeal.
But “there is absolutely no evidence that these incidents — while disturbing, to be sure — are in any way motivated by anti-Semitism,” it said.
Centre for Israel & Jewish Affairs spokesman David Ouellette tells the National Post that the recent attacks were unlike past incidents that were anti-Semitic in nature, which he says usually aim at religious targets like synagogues.
The Toronto Star suggests that the fire bombings may be over a price war between the restaurants. Last week’s attack on Chops was the third time since 2011 that the establishment has been similarly targeted, according to the paper. The paper writes that “a kosher restaurant war” may be at play; however, that doesn’t explain the fire bombing of the kitchen supply store this past weekend. The Star writes:
The few remarks police have made over the past week suggest they are looking at “competition” as the driving factor. Chops co-owner Ouri Ohayon, who says his high-end restaurant does a brisk business, offers “jealousy” as the likely cause.
“We’re not Mafia-related. We’re not gangsters. We don’t owe nothing to anybody. It’s somebody who wants us to be closed,” he said in one of several interviews last week. “We’re a high-end restaurant ... We’re busy every night, thank God.”
Ohayon is offering a $20,000 reward for information to help solve the crime.
The Toronto Star reports that in 2005 he “pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence for intimidating the former wife of a friend in 2004 and 2005 in order to collect on a $150,000 debt.”
The National Post reports that Tehrani-Cohen, whose home was attacked was kidnapped for almost 24 hours in 2010. When he was returned, he said that his kidnappers had wanted a ransom. The paper reports that he is presently involved in various legal battles including a tax fraud charge.
Meanwhile, members of the Montreal Jewish community are apprehensive about dining out, reportedly concerned about patronizing the kosher establishments until the police have arrested a suspect.