TORONTO — Outside in the chill, police held back noisy protesters, at least four of whom were arrested. One police officer suffered a broken rib. Inside, common cause was forged between two controversial groups.
Meir Weinstein, head of the Jewish Defence League in Canada, chats online with EDL founder Tommy Robinson. [Ron Csillag photo]
Roughly 50 protesters representing various anti-racist and social action groups, many with their faces obscured by scarves and balaclavas, gathered at the Toronto Zionist Centre on Marlee Avenue Jan. 11 to oppose a handshake and newly minted relations between the Jewish Defence League (JDL) and the U.K.-based English Defence League (EDL).
Protesters shouted slogans and taunts at members of the JDL. Police horseback units were brought in to contain the unruly demonstration.
Indoors, Meir Weinstein, head of the JDL in Canada, explained to about an equal number of attendees why his organization has reached out to the EDL, an anti-Islamist group that has been denounced as extremist.
Weinstein’s promised online chat with EDL founder Stephen Lennon, who goes by the name Tommy Robinson, was marred only by a poor Skype connection, but the Briton’s message was clear: Canadians “need to wake up. The Islamicization of your country is on its way.”
The highly publicized JDL rally in support of the EDL was opposed by Canadian Jewish Congress, which said last week that while it feels Islamic fundamentalism is “a real threat,” fighting it with “generalized hatred against Muslims, as does the EDL, is only a recipe for fuelling more conflict.
“When extremists come together we all too often get a combustible reaction,” stated CJC CEO Bernie Farber. “Violence, no matter who the perpetrator must be condemned. Using the tactics of hooligans whether from the right or the left is appalling.”
Critics have charged the EDL with being racist, fascist and Islamophobic, and that its rallies often turn violent. The group was formed last year and is resolutely working class in its outlook and philosophy.
The EDL is “a far-right extremist organization” that has organized “violent street marches that target Arab and Muslim people,” reads an open letter signed by two dozen activist groups, among them Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Canadian Arab Federation.
To enthusiastic applause, Weinstein noted that charges against Robinson of assaulting a police officer stemming from a confrontation with Muslims last Remembrance Day in London were dropped that very day, Jan. 11.
The JDL is forging relations with the EDL in order to “take a stand against the forces of political Islam,” according to the JDL’s website.
In his remarks, Weinstein said “a bond must be established with those groups that we believe to be on the same page and fighting the same tyranny.”
The threat of militant Islamism “is much more serious than any threat we face. We are obligated to take a stand,” Weinstein said.
Robinson, 27, said that since the incident last Remembrance Day, in which a group of militant Muslims burned poppies and said British soldiers should “burn in hell,” the EDL has gained 18,000 members.
British police “are petrified of Islam,” he said in his 15-minute talk.
Ultimately, Robinson said, Islam and western democracy “are incompatible, like oil and water.”