On Oct. 21, neo-Nazis were at the vanguard of the so-called “anti-Trudeau” rally held at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. It was organized by the same groups and individuals that hold regular anti-Muslim rallies at the site. Within the anti-Muslim movement, there are some groups that are pro-Israel and some that are anti-Semitic. Paradoxically, some members of the racist “alt-right” movement are both.
These rallies are opposed by several anti-racist and anti-fascist groups, which include labour organizations, socialists, anarchists and other groups.
Several of the same groups and individuals that demonstrate against neo-Nazis, as well as many anti-Muslim groups, also support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and the Palestine solidarity movement. This has prompted some, like the Jewish Defence League (JDL), to characterize the anti-fascist movement as anti-Semitic.
The CJN interviewed three Jewish members of the anti-fascist (antifa) movement in Ontario, to better understand how the movement as a whole feels about Israel and the Jewish people.
Alex Hundert was arrested at the Oct. 21 rally, while trying to prevent a group that included neo-Nazis from demonstrating in front of Toronto City Hall.
Does the conversation about Israel come up in anti-fascist circles?
Generally, no, because anti-fascism is street level and reactionary. While the same people may go to anti-Zionist demonstrations, they won’t do it waving black and red anti-fascist flags. It’s not an active conversation. On the other hand, a lot of the same people are in movements that are anti-Zionist.
Now that the new far-right groups have exposed themselves as being very anti-Semitic, has that been a topic of conversation within the anti-fascist movement?
In my opinion, the JDL makes that very confusing. It’s confusing that the JDL and Soldiers of Odin have worked together, even though the Soldiers of Odin have guys with all that 14/88 Nazi s–t on their Facebook profiles. You can’t think Hitler is cool and say you’re not racist. When I do see anti-Semitism on the left, it’s generally when people try to talk about the JDL and how it relates to the broader Jewish community. They assume, because of how the JDL positions itself, that the JDL is a more extreme version of Zionism. But that’s not accurate. It’s really just become an anti-Muslim movement. What happens is people try to hold the Jewish community accountable for the JDL. As a Jew, I have always felt that this is kind of disingenuous.
[At the moment, the Jewish Defence League is taking steps to identify and disassociate itself from the openly anti-Semitic groups and individuals in the far-right/anti-Muslim movement.]
Are you an anti-fascist?
I’m not part of organizations or groups that have coalesced into what people call “antifa,” but I am anti-fascist.
Are you involved in other progressive causes?
Sort of. I’m doing more stuff at the Jewish community level, like building the queer Jewish community, rather than complaining about the state of the institutional Jewish community. I’m a member of Independent Jewish Voices and involved with the Winchevsky Centre in Toronto. I write about it sometimes. I hosted an event called No Pride in Zionism, against CIJA’s (the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) participation in the Pride celebrations at The 519 community centre.
How do the groups involved in the anti-fascist movement see Israel?
We’re watching fascism happen in Israel, just like we’re watching it happening in the United States and in Canada. I think the Israeli government practices fascism, and that anti-fascist opposition to Israel generally takes that as a given. A position that is opposed to Israel is opposed to specific fascistic policies coming out of it and is part of a broader anti-racist stance. Depending on the leaning of the individuals, there is also a recognition that there is a lot of racism inherent to the Israeli state – there are ethnic hierarchies and society is structured based on those hierarchies, and an expansionist view of international relations and internal domestic policy, which is a hallmark of fascist thinking. A lot of opposition to Israel is based around that kind of tenet of anti-fascism.
Is Israel discussed a lot in anti-fascist circles?
No. It comes up tangentially. It doesn’t come up often, unless people force the conversation.
How do anti-fascists feel about Jews generally?
I feel comfortable. Certain people view Jews as something to defend, or go against, or as part of a historical narrative, instead of as human beings to interact with. There are a lot of Jews who are involved in anti-fascism. Zionism is a reasonable source of discomfort for some people. I don’t think that’s the majority, though. Overall, I see a lot more Jews in the anti-fascist movement and more people who are having nuanced conversations – like we can be opposed to Zionism, but not label everything Jewish as “Zionist.”But I do see people willing to make those broad generalizations at the expense of Jews. We also have to recognize that anti-Semitism has a specific role within fascism. It’s historically a sign of fascism. I think anti-fascists care about anti-Semitism a lot – more than the right gives them credit for. When there’s anti-Semitism, a lot of people care about it and a lot of attention is given to it. They recognize that Holocaust denial is a form of fascism and they mobilize against anti-Semitism because anti-Semitism will hurt everyone.
Unnamed Jewish anti-fascist organizer
This organizer asked to remain anonymous, out of a concern over anti-Muslim, “alt-right” or neo-Nazi groups using the information for nefarious purposes.
How often does the topic of Israel or Palestine solidarity come up in anti-fascist circles?
We’re pretty focused on the Canadian scene. We’re all involved in our usual activism – environmentalism, BDS, Palestine solidarity, anti-war, etc. – but when fascists take to the streets, those projects are put aside. We come together in solidarity against the fascists.
Do Canadian anti-fascists consider BDS an anti-fascist struggle?
Some people might. I do not. I don’t think Israel is fascist – I think Israel is basically an apartheid state with respect to Gaza and the West Bank. There is mass support there for far-right politics, including ethnic cleansing, which is extremely dangerous, but they’re not quite at that point just yet. But other people who do work in Israel will say that the work they do there is, in a way, anti-fascist.
Are any Jews staying home from anti-fascist activity because they don’t feel welcome?
Absolutely. It’s because they know that the far-left types who participate in anti-fascist action are Palestine solidarity folks and they think that people who support Palestine solidarity want to kick all the Jews out of Israel – which isn’t true – so they stay away. The reason they don’t participate is based on misconceptions. None of us want to kick all the Jews out of Israel and none of us are pro-Hamas.
Some of us are against the Israeli state, but that’s because they’re anarchists who don’t support any state. It’s not like we’re singling out Jews and saying, “you guys especially shouldn’t have a state.” I think the vast majority of people who take part in BDS and Palestine solidarity want a two-state solution.
How do anti-fascists feel about Jews?
Anti-fascists are against the oppression of any group – period. We have political disagreements with Jews, Muslims, liberals, most people. But that won’t stop us from coming out and defending communities that are under attack – including the Jewish community. Even though I disagree with Zionism, if there was a fascist rally that was going to go through some Jewish neighbourhood like at Bathurst and Steeles, I would be the first one on the streets to stop them. I’m confident I speak for everyone. None of us tolerate their anti-Semitic s–t.
What would happen if Jewish student groups with an Israeli flag and anti-fascists both showed up to demonstrate against the “alt-right”?
The Hillel people don’t understand something very important: waving the Israeli flag is completely pointless, because the Nazis support the State of Israel. I know this sounds completely f–ked – and it is. They say, “if Jews are allowed to have their own ethnostate, why can’t white people?” And then, really naive, disaffected white kids say, “oh, you’re right.” They support the Jewish state because they think it helps their argument for a white ethnostate and it justifies a policy of mass deportations of Jews, because they think Jews can always go to Israel.