Protesters Shut Down Jewish Defense League at World Social Forum
Far-right Jewish Group Drove from Toronto to Oppose Palestine-Solidarity
“Send your little punk over here, we’ll go one-on-one,” the middle-aged man shouted angrily, from behind police lines, at the group of anti-racist protesters.
The man was one of about ten members of the Jewish Defense League, who had driven to Montreal from Toronto with the intention of disrupting Palestine solidarity events at the ongoing World Social Forum.
The JDL’s Toronto branch had specifically created plans to disrupt a workshop given by Canadian Friends of Sabeel, an organization which describes itself as “standing in solidarity with Palestinians, and raising awareness in Canada of the struggle of Palestinian Christians.” The subject of the workshop was “Divesting your Church or Denomination 101 (BDS for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel),” and was scheduled to take place at 1 p.m at Cegep du Vieux Montreal.
A callout to prevent the JDL’s disruption was initially made through Treyf, a podcast and blog run by Jewish leftists in Montreal. The callout was answered by Solidarity Across Borders, a migrant solidarity group, which helped to organize and publicize the action.
“We felt it was important to call for immediate opposition to the JDL, who have already attempted to create links with other fascist groups in [Montreal] like PEGIDA,” said David Zinman, one of the authors of the original Treyf callout.
“As Jewish people, we know that our liberation and safety is tied to that of the Palestinian people, and we adamantly refuse the logic of anti-Arab racism that the JDL peddles,” he continued.
The JDL is a group that was formed in 1968 in New York City, under the leadership of Rabbi Meir Kahane. It was initially formed as a vigilante-style street patrol in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods, specifically targeting black people and Puerto Ricans.
The organization grew throughout the United States, and began to focus more principally on targeting Arabs. In 1994, JDL member Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslims in a mosque in the West Bank—a move which was later celebrated by the JDL.
In 2000, the FBI designated the JDL a right-wing terrorist organization.
“Alerta, Alerta, Antifascista!”
By the time the workshop was set to begin, around 100 anti-racist activists gathered in front of the school where it was taking place, waiting to prevent the JDL from disrupting the event. Music playing on the loudspeakers was cut at 2 p.m., and an organizer announced that ten people in JDL shirts were a few blocks away.
The crowd began to move, and turned the corner from Ontario St. onto St. Laurent Blvd. to find a van and a group of people with Israeli flags and JDL shirts. A JDL member—a middle aged woman—was carrying a stack of pamphlets which juxtaposed two separate photos of a keffiyeh-wearing Palestinian and a member of the KKK, with the words “the face of terror” emblazoned underneath.
One protester attempted to grab the pamphlets, only to be shoved by a man wearing a JDL shirt. The pamphlets were scattered on the ground, and the increasingly angry man from the JDL was punched in the face by an anti-fascist demonstrator after shoving more counter-protesters.
Within seconds, the police arrived. They quickly formed a line in between the two groups, and a tense silence prevailed. Soon, the anti-JDL protesters began chanting slogans such as “alerta, alerta, antifascista!” which are common in anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrations.
“The [Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal] is here… to make sure no one gets hurt and that nothing happens between the two groups arguing with each other,” said SPVM media relations officer Manuel Couture.
Both sides brought out megaphones, and attempted to give speeches from behind police lines. Whenever the member of the JDL attempted to speak, however, they were drowned out by the chants of the anti-racist protesters. This back-and-forth lasted approximately an hour and a half.
There was a sizable contingent of Jewish participants on the anti-JDL side, who sometimes attempted to chant slogans in Yiddish.
Once the Friends of Sabeel workshop was finished, the JDL members decided to leave. Their van was escorted by police as they drove southbound on St. Laurent Blvd., a one-way street which heads north.
Correction: In a previous iteration of this article, we published quotes anonymously suggesting that Jewish voices weren’t centered in the resistance again the JDL. Organizers from the protest have since been contacted and said that multiple anti-JDL Jewish protesters spoke using the megaphone. The quotes have been removed due to an unjustified anonymity. The Link regrets the error.