Yesterday our comrade Mohhamad Hedayat was sentenced to three months intermittent jail time for being involved in an altercation between anti fascists and JDL/ EDL supporters. This incident stemmed from a demonstration opposing the Islamophobia of the EDL and a presentation hosted by the JDL where an EDL speaker was present. This sentence was as part of a guilty plea bargian which took into account that if he was found guilty and sentenced to more than six months he would have been deported to his homeland where he could face persecution and possibly death. Below is an article explaining what happened at the demonstration.
Fascists of a feather flock together
By Alex Balch
On the evening of January 11th, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) hosted an event at the Toronto Zionist Centre, at which Stephen Lennon, leader of the English Defense League (EDL) – a far-right extremist organization responsible for a string of violent anti-Muslim rallies in the UK – spoke to supporters via videoconference. Lennon, who goes by the pseudonym “Tommy Robinson”, is a former British Nationalist Party (BNP) member currently facing charges for assaulting a police officer at an anti-Muslim demonstration this past November. For their part, the JDL has painted him as an unjustly persecuted political dissident, targeted by the British government for his brave and courageous stance against Islamic extremism.
The JDL is recognized as a “right-wing terrorist organization” by the FBI, owing to their involvement in a series of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States – including the 1985 assassination of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee director Alex Odeh and the attempted assassination of American-Arab US Congressman Darrell Issa shortly after the events of September 11th, 2001. They have also repeatedly faced criticism from mainstream Zionist organizations for their unapologetic use of extreme violence and their undisguised anti-Arab racism. In 1994, JDL charter member Baruch Goldstein opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Palestinians in a Hebron mosque, killing 29 civilians and injuring 125 more. Despite deadly riots in the West Bank and an outpouring of shocked anger from mainstream Israeli society, the JDL refused to condemn the attack, even going so far as to rationalize the heinous massacre as “a preventative measure against yet another Arab attack on Jews.”
Within Canada, the JDL has carved out a reputation for harassing pro-Palestinian demonstrations and lobbying government officials, university administrations and NGOs to enforce a strict pro-Israel line. Following their failure to lobby Toronto’s city counselors to ban Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from the Toronto Pride parade, the JDL issued an angry press release referring to Toronto as the “City of Sodomite Communists”, and sent their members to harass QuAIA activists during the parade.
Much like their cohorts in the JDL, members of the EDL have made a name for themselves through their open embrace of violence and their willingness to frame their anti-Islamic rhetoric in defensive, self-laudatory terms of declining white privilege. Combining the stark imagery of traditional paramilitary organizations with the populist bravado of football hooliganism, the EDL claims that no one else has “the balls” to stand up to radical Islam and thereby stop what they see as the imminent imposition of “Sharia Law” in the UK. Borrowing from other contemporary fascist organizations, the EDL shrouds their hateful rhetoric in the inclusive language of nationalism and appeals to free speech in order to soften their inevitable conflict with the liberal democratic state.
Recognizing the shared mandate of the two groups, JDL’s Canadian leader Meir Weinstein announced that the JDL and EDL would be joining forces in order to “take a stand against the forces of political Islam”. The first gesture aimed at solidifying this partnership was the announcement of the Zionist Centre speaking engagement. In response to this provocative attempt to establish a fascist foothold in Toronto, two counter-demonstrations were hastily organized; the first was a candle-lit vigil, organized by the Christian Peacekeepers Team (CPT), and the second, a more confrontational demonstration called by Anti-Racist Action (ARA).
While a small crowd of supporters assembled inside the venue to hear the EDL chairman rail on about the dire need for Canadians to “wake up” to the looming “Islamicization” [sic] of their country, in the streets outside the building, the atmosphere was defiant.
A rowdy contingent of anti-fascist activists, who’d responded to the ARA’s call to “evict the EDL” stood behind a banner that read “Pro-Semite Anti-Fascist”, chanting “Go to hell EDL!” and “Smash… smash… smash the EDL!” A number of the protesters were masked (a common practice at antifa rallies, intended to avoid being singled out by fascists for revenge), and several carried black flags.
Following an hour-long standoff with the obligatory police cordon, the protesters were told to vacate the street. After they refused to do so – pointing out that the street was already closed off, and that their protest was peaceful – the police called in mounted reinforcements. Shortly thereafter, eight members of the Toronto Police Service Mounted Unit arrived on the scene and charged the protesters with their horses, forcing them onto the sidewalk. After they had passed, the remaining police officers, flanked by baton-wielding agents from the Public Order Unit (POU), rushed the protesters in an attempt to kettle them. They also used this opportunity to start grabbing people’s flags. During the resulting skirmish, a police officer was injured and sent to the hospital with a broken rib, and four protesters were arrested (one of whom was brutally assaulted by police officers and had to be hospitalized). Two of those arrested were charged with assaulting a peace officer [sic], and two others were ostensibly arrested for filming examples of police brutality. They were subsequently released without charge, only to discover that their footage had been deleted from their cameras.
Overall, the protest succeeded in drawing media attention to public opposition to the JDL/EDL alliance, further alienating the JDL from more moderate Jewish Zionist groups. The protest was given relatively favourable coverage in the national media, and was even picked up by Ha’aretz – a liberal Israeli news publication – which carried an article offering a fair amount of background information on the JDL and EDL.
The combination of a peaceful vigil and a confrontational anti-fascist mobilization prepared to defend itself against police aggression managed to strike an effective balance. True to the letter and spirit of Diversity of Tactics, the two protests were physically separated from one another, and offered two diverse entry points for individuals to express their shared anti-racist sentiment. The vigil was well-attended, with members of the CPT joined by members of the First Nations Solidarity Working Group (FNSWG), Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and various other secular and faith-based organizations. A group of young Muslim women driving by the vigil stopped their car to express their gratitude and briefly join the protesters.
Despite the outbreak of violence at the ARA demonstration, members of the non-violent vigil expressed their anger with the police reaction; an email from one of the organizers thanked the ARA for standing in solidarity with Muslims and other marginalized communities, and suggested that members of the vigil would do their best to return the favour by standing in solidarity with those arrested.
This solidarity demonstrated between practitioners of non-violent tactics and those who choose more militant forms of resistance was a welcome and refreshing sight in a city still reeling from the effects of the G20 protests, and points to a potential road forward for the integration of self-defense into the framework of traditional demonstrations. In a city that has learned first-hand the harsh realities of police brutality, it should be commonly accepted that if the police attack a peaceful protest, then maybe they deserve to have their ribs broken.
Just as important, the protest demonstrated that Toronto – a city once well-known for its militant local ARA chapter – is still able to mobilize an impressive contingent of anti-fascists on very short notice. This is vitally important, as the economy continues to slide into an age of permanent austerity and disillusioned young whites become more susceptible to racist, proto-fascist organizations who attempt to lay the blame for their current socio-economic malaise on the most vulnerable members of society.