The tragedy of four murdered teenagers in Israel has had more than emotional repercussions here in Canada. But it is unfair to blame foreign events for the shameful actions that took place in a Toronto suburb last Thursday, July 3.
The previous Monday, June 30, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the three kidnapped Jewish teens, were found slain. Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Arab, was subsequently killed in what appears to have been a revenge murder by a group of Jewish assailants.
Into this moment of tragedy and tension, in an act with predictable repercussions, the Jewish Defence League announced it would hold a protest over the murders outside Palestine House, in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.
The Palestine House Educational and Cultural Centre bills itself as a not-for-profit organization that “serves as the educational, cultural and social centre for the Palestinian community in the Greater Toronto Area (in particular) and in Canada (in general).”
The Jewish Defence League, which was founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, is viewed by many as a right-wing extremist group with vigilante tendencies. The respected Southern Poverty Law Centre has added the JDL to its hate group watch-list. The Anti-Defamation League has accused the JDL of harboring “thugs and hooligans.”
Predictably – the JDL having given advance notice – they arrived at Palestine House (backed up by some members of the motorcycle club Yidden on Wheels) to greet a large throng of Palestinian Canadians and their supporters already chanting anti-Israel slogans and waving anti-Israel placards and Palestinian (and Canadian) flags. What ensued was caught, as almost everything seems to be these days, on video. It leaves both sides looking like jackasses. Three people were injured as police struggled and failed to separate the mobs of competing thugs, most of the minor injuries seemingly from whacking with flagpoles as both sides paraded their respective ensigns and used them as weapons.
To say the scene was juvenile is an understatement. Jewish extremists show up, knowing their mere presence, let alone their antagonistic actions, will provoke another group at a time of understandable international tension. Not surprisingly, some of the Palestinian supporters took the bait. Mayhem ensued. Chauvinistic slogans and provocative gestures ruled the day. A couple of people were mildly hurt, but it could have been much worse.
By Canadian standards, though, this was a particularly nasty scene. And, while the fact that it happened during the week of Canada Day does not make it worse, it certainly doesn’t make it better.
The JDL and some similar groups view themselves as the embodiment of a “new Jew” that learned the tragic lessons of passivity. But if the JDL represents the future, we reject it entirely.
If the concept of a “new Jew” is at all legitimate, it is most reflected in the state of Israel. This type of “muscular Judaism” is about more than brute force. It is about attempting to defend and exemplify the values upon which Israel is based, and that it continues to strive to represent: rule of law, justice, fairness, humanitarianism, intercultural collaboration and mutual respect regardless of immutable characteristic. These are the same values that have made Canada among the safest, most secure, successful and welcoming nations for Jews, Palestinians and so many other people.
Events outside Palestine House last week suggest that both the JDL and those who engaged with them – pretty much all men, it might be worth noting – have something to learn about Canadian values.