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The long overdue death of the Jewish Defence League

JDL founder Meir Kahane holds a press conference in New York City, 1971. Photo from Shutterstock.

On July 9, 2021, one of Canada’s oldest hate organizations quietly folded up its tent and went home. On his weekly podcast, his voice cracking in parts, Jewish Defence League (JDL) head Meir Weinstein made the following, incoherent statement:

To better deal with the threats to Canada’s national security and hate crimes against ethnic communities, including the Jewish Community, it is necessary first and foremost to use legal tools and cooperate with local and federal governments, all levels. I would like to announce today that I am stepping down from the activities with the Jewish Defence League and the establishment of a new group of lawyers and researchers, security professionals assigned to investigate and document hate crimes and activities that undermine Canada’s national security and bring to justice the criminals. More details about the group will be provided in the near future. At the same time, I intend to focus on promoting Hebrew culture, tradition and history among the Jewish community in Canada, and the United States as well, to ensure the continued heritage of the Jewish people for thousands of years and its connection to the land on which the great historical events of the Jewish people were engraved, the land of Israel.
Thank you very much. That’s our statement.

One could be accused of jumping the gun with talk of demise. After all, the announcement only related to Weinstein. But who could conceivably pick up the mantle of grand wizard of Jewish fascism with Weinstein gone? The JDL, for all intents and purposes, is no more.

The JDL was founded by Meir Kahane in the summer of 1968 as a far-right, Jewish nationalist alternative to mainstream Zionism. At the heart of Kahane’s vision was a theocratic state cleansed of Arabs who could either leave Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories “alive or dead.”

The Canadian JDL has been a reality since young Joseph Schachter set off his first makeshift bomb in 1976. Weinstein has been its acknowledged Canadian leader since 1979. In the United States, the JDL made a name for itself by killing and maiming its political opponents. Their softer, Canadian cousins preferred threats of physical violence and anti-Muslim racism.

The Canadian JDL’s long history of violence and hate was recently chronicled by writer and activist Yves Engler for Canadian Dimension.

The curtain-call for the Canadian JDL was the summer of 2021, when Israel attempted evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and bombed residential neighbourhoods in Gaza. On May 15, 2021, a massive demonstration of Palestine solidarity took place in Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square with more than 10,000 people defiantly filling the space in front of city hall and the surrounding streets. In the middle of it all stood about 30 members of the JDL and their supporters.

It’s well known that the JDL modus operandi at Palestine solidarity rallies is to provoke violence. This time, however, they were outnumbered by a factor of about 300 to 1. The math clearly not in their favour, a more astute bigot might leave the party to fight another day. But they stayed. By the end of the day, Weinstein was gone, his followers were on the run and the JDL’s second-in-command, Zaza Vili, was left with a humiliating gash on his forehead. Vili hasn’t been seen in public since.

In the three weeks since May 15, 2021, Weinstein had collapsed the JDL and founded a new organization, Israel Now, which currently hosts the JDL’s old podcast.

While it is clear that Weinstein is trying to rebrand his fanatical hatred of Arabs and Muslims with the founding of a new organization, we can rightly count the death of the JDL as a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement.

Stephen Ellis is a Toronto based lawyer and an organizer for the Canadian BDS Coalition.


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