Jewish Defence League wants US comeback

Jewish Defence League wants US comeback
In-depth: Canada's JDL leader says Trump presidency presents chance to rebuild far-right, Jewish nationalist movement in United States.
4 min read
09 January, 2017
Canada's Jewish Defence League is a small but active militant organisation [Getty]
The leader of Canada's branch of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) has said that Donald Trump's presidential victory could help revive the extremist Jewish nationalist movement in the United States.

Meir Weinstein said at an event in early January that he was trying to re-establish a Kahanist movement in the US "under the JDL umbrella or under a different name," Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported this week.

"We are trying to get something off the ground in New York. We have to resurrect it in other states in the US, in LA, Chicago, Florida, Philadelphia, I get emails from all over the US, we have to get this thing going," Weinstein reportedly said at the New York event.

Weinstein also recently told The Forward that he believes the incoming US president may provide an opportunity to rebuild the JDL in the US.

Weinstein said the JDL's Canada chapter would be willing to confront neo-Nazis who are set to march in Montana later this month in support of white supremacist leader Richard Spencer.

That may be an attempt to do some damage control, after Ha'aretz reported that a US Kahanist said the group would not stand with Jews confronting the neo-Nazi march.

"In this specific event, this guy Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who stands up for white people, and there is nothing wrong with that," said Jonathan Stern, an organizer of the New York event.

"Our movement is part of the Trump movement," Stern also told the newspaper.

"There is a major shift in US foreign policy. We now feel that the government, I don't want to say it's in our hands, but we are part of it and we believe it's going to help us advance our cause once January 20 comes around."

The JDL was founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 in New York.

Kahane, who was assassinated in the US in 1990, pushed for the removal of Palestinians from all lands under Israel's control and fervently supported the establishment of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Meir Kahane's grandson, Meir Ettinger, also runs an extremist
Jewish organisation. He was arrested in 2015 on suspicion
of arson that led to a Palestinian infant burning alive [Getty]

Staunchly anti-Arab and an advocate of using violence against Palestinians - and anyone else standing in opposition to his group's goals - Kahane once said that "to turn the other cheek is not a Jewish concept".

Adherents to JDL ideologies or to the affiliated Kach party, which Kahane also founded, are believed to have been involved in several attacks against Palestinians, including the bombings of Palestinian schools.

Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the southern West Bank in 1994 and injured many more, was a Kahanist.

That act was used to justify the Israeli army instituting a series of measures aimed at granting Jewish settlers greater liberties in the strategic city, while curtailing the daily rights and freedom of movement of Palestinian residents.

The Kach party was banned in Israel itself, and the US Department of State also designated it a terrorist group.

Still, the mantra "Kahane was right" has been adopted by some of the most hard-line and ideological Israeli settlers in the West Bank to show their continued support for his ideologies.

"The JDL's position with regard to Israel is denial of any Palestinian claims to land and the calling for the removal of all Arabs from the 'Jewish-inherited soil'," explained the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks extremist groups in the US.

"The group has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks in the US and abroad, and has engaged in intense harassment of foreign diplomats, Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders, and officials."

The FBI designated the JDL a right-wing terrorist group in the US in 2001, and according to the SPLC, "its domestic influence has waned in the years since, and today the JDL has no active chapters in the US".

In Canada, the JDL chapter is small, but it remains active, organising protests and counter-protests in Toronto, where many of its most active adherents are based, and occasionally in other cities across the country.

The JDL Canada branch describes itself as "committed to the restoration of pride and integrity to the Jewish people, the return of Jewish values, the reclamation of the Jewish sense of Justice and the abolition of hatred and bigotry".

The group operates legally in Canada. It makes clear on its website that it opposes miscegenation between Jews and non-Jews, and fights so-called Jewish "assimilation".

In December, it organised several events in support of Amona, an Israeli settlement outpost in the West Bank that is considered illegal under both international and Israeli law. 

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours