With the launch of a new Jewish Defence League chapter in Calgary, JDL Canada’s national director Meir Weinstein says he’s fulfilling his promise to expand across the country.
“It’s one of the goals of the JDL to open up chapters in major cities, and that’s what we’re doing. So we’re there to fulfil that need and fulfil that promise to those who called us,” Weinstein said.
This development comes about a year after chapters were established in Vancouver and Montreal, which elicited criticism from Jewish community leaders.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, chair of security for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Montreal, told The CJN last year, “there is no void [in Montreal] that needs to be filled” and that “fear-mongering is not helpful.”
Last month, Weinstein travelled to Calgary to lead a public meeting held at the Metropolitan Centre, which attracted about 150 people.
He said Calgary needs a JDL presence, referring to an incident in July 2014, during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, when hundreds of pro-Palestinian supporters gathered outside Calgary City Hall and members of a family who came to show their support for Israel were assaulted.
“There were some members of the Jewish community and supporters of Israel who showed up to counter it and hold some Israeli flags and signs, and they got beat up pretty bad,” he said.
“We received a lot of calls from people to re-establish,” he said, explaining that Calgary had a JDL chapter in the 1980s when teacher James Keegstra, an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier, was making headlines.
The Jewish Free Press reported that it was a “one-person show run by the late Harvey Kane… who staged public protests at the courthouse where Keegstra was being tried for hate crimes.”
Don Sharpe, who volunteered to lead the new Calgary chapter, spoke to The CJN about his motivation to be part of the organization.
“I don’t understand why everybody isn’t a part of the JDL. I really don’t,” said Sharpe, who isn’t Jewish.
“I don’t see any other group doing the kind of work the JDL does. Let’s talk about what is happening now with the [Calgary] Jewish Federation. It’s a wonderful group of people and they work very hard to be inclusive of all people and sharing their faith, but they’re really not confronting what I see as the main problem here, and that is the rabid Jew-hatred that exists in this city, the Jew-hatred that allowed [some people] to get beaten up by a group of protesters at a pro-Palestinian rally… That hatred will grow unless it’s confronted, and I don’t mean confronted with nice words, or come over to my house to have dinner. The bad guys don’t want to have dinner with us.”
Jeffrey Smith, chair of the Calgary Jewish Federation’s community relations committee, stopped short of criticizing the JDL, but said “they are a new organization in this community and the Calgary Jewish Federation is basically taking a wait-and-see approach, to see what kind of activities they involve themselves in, in this community. So we’re really just leaving it at that at this stage.”
Sharpe said the JDL in Calgary plans to have a presence, “every time there is a BDS event, every time there is a Jew-hatred event, every time there is an anti-Israel event – we’re going to show up and we’re going to counter that narrative with the truth.”
On April 28, the JDL will be hosting Robert Spencer, an American author who is an outspoken critic of Islam and director of Jihad Watch, at Calgary’s Metropolitan Centre.
“We would like one day for the federation to realize that we all have the same goals. We believe that Jew-hatred needs to be confronted all the time, immediately,” Sharpe said.
“At the last anti-Israel event I went to, there was a guy at the back who called out during the question period, ‘Why don’t we just kill all the Jews?’ This was in a public arena, this was in the John Dutton Theatre at the Calgary Central Library… that horrified me… The JDL will always confront this kind of hatred and will never back down.”