On January 11, 2011, the alliance of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and the English Defence League (EDL) were challenged by counter-protests from anti-racist and human rights activists. The JDL and EDL alliance was supposed to be cemented in Toronto at an event held by the JDL in support of Tommy Robinson of the EDL, who addressed the Zionist group about his recent arrest. While the JDL is known for their militant anti-Palestinian or ‘pro-Israel’ activism in Toronto and has a long history as a militant Zionist organization in the United States and elsewhere, their alliance with The English Defence League, a neo-fascist organization based out of Britain that focuses on anti-Islamic street activism, seems surprising considering the history of the relationship between Jews and fascist states and movements.
Although the EDL does not claim to be fascist in any of their publicity and is not linked in any way to traditional neo-Nazi groups, the nationalist nature of their movement and their tactic of scapegoating one particular religious group to justify their broader political agenda betrays their underlying fascist politics. However, the JDL is on the extreme right-wing of the Zionist movement and organizes in a manner that is eerily similar to traditional fascists and white nationalists, with very disciplined organization and a major focus on building a militant national ideology among their rank and file.
In response to this JDL/EDL alliance, two separate counter-protests gathered, but organizers from both publicaly expressed their solidarity with the other. One was an explicitly peaceful vigil outside Lawrence Square with candles and music, organized by the CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group and Christian Peacemakers Team and was also attended by several other groups. Another protest, more militant in dress and slogans but still simply a demonstration, was organized mainly by a new incarnation of Anti-Racist Action Toronto.
The ARA press release stated: “Their [EDL] claim of opposing “Militant Islam” is a cover for their racist campaign of whipping up hatred against Muslims. Their organizing principles of opposing the ‘spread of Islam’ in the United Kingdom clearly show that they are not only against militant Muslims, but rather seek to destroy ALL Muslims regardless of political ideology. The EDL has organized violent street marches that target Arab and Muslim communities, demonstrating the fact that they target ALL Muslim people simply for being who they are.”
Across the intersection of Marlee and Lawrence, 20 people at the vigil played music and gave speeches, holding signs that said “fight Islamophobia”. A car with 5 young women, several of them with full niqab, were simply driving by when they saw the signs and stopped to join the vigil briefly. “Personally I find it very compelling to see people here who are not even Muslim literally braving the elements for this cause.” Another woman said “The Koran says ‘to you be your religion and to me mine” in chapter 109, and everyone has the right to their own religion.
Standing with the peaceful vigil, Andy Lehrer from Independent Jewish Voices said: "The JDL are an extremist group with a violent history, yet they have been allowed to organize within the Canadian Jewish community with impunity. It is not enough for self-appointed leaders of the Jewish community like Bernie Farber to say they are 'disappointed' by the JDL. It is time for the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bnai Brith and other community institutions to join IJV in saying unequivocally that the JDL has no place in the Jewish community."
The Police formed a line between the JDF/EDL outside the building and the ARA protesters. About 10 people, mostly older men, stood outside the building. The National Post claims there were 50 people inside. One man standing with them raised up his hand in a fist in a manner resembling a nazi salute. One man raised his hand and called out “Hindu Pride”. “Do you think that these people will make a distinction between Muslims and Hindus when they are running through the streets beating brown people?” one counter-protester asked. He replied by chanting “tear gas’.
About 50 ARA protesters chanted “EDL- go to Hell” and “Smash, Smash, Smash EDL”. One protester spoke to cars driving into the JDL lines “I’m Jewish, I’m from this area and I don’t support what you are doing. No one here supports what you are doing. You should be ashamed of yourself”. The police forced protesters aside by pushing them to allow cars of late-arriving JDL people to move through.
Jenny Peto from Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA): "The JDL and EDL both have histories of violence against Arab and Muslim people. As Palestine solidarity activists we have experienced the bullying and intimidation tactics of the JDL for years now. This rally in support of the Islamophobic English Defense League should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that the JDL is an extremist, racist organization. As long as groups like the JDL and EDL are spreading their hatred and violence, we will be here to oppose them."
Despite there being no violent provocation by ARA protesters, riot police and mounted police arrived to clear them from the street. Eight police horses charged the ARA crowd, effectively clearing them from the western side of the road and forcing them onto the sidewalk on the east side, while riot police proceeded to arrest people from the crowd. Demonstrators from the vigil watched in solidarity, and some did close observation of the arrests at a risk to their own safety. The police singled out one individual at a time for arrest while pressing back the crowd into the fence on the eastern side of Marlee Avenue. Three had been released as of 1 AM this morning. One remains in custody and early reports indicate that he has been beaten. [he has since been released]
[This story relies more than normal on anonymous sources, because of the known history of intimidation from the JDL against activists who oppose them, which has also been targeted at their families.]