Canadian Anti-Hate Network
This weekend saw a massive gathering of protesters angry over the Government of Israel forcibly removing Palestinians from their homes in the small community of Sheikh Jarrah and the bombing of Gaza. While the main protest was predominantly peaceful, footage from after the demonstrations show pro-Palestinian protesters clashing in the streets with members of the Jewish Defence League, a known anti-Muslim hate group with a history of violent altercations.
The heavy JDL involvement went uncommented on by many media reports, advocacy organizations, and politicians condemning “antisemitic violence.”
According to the Toronto Police Service, on Saturday, May 15, over 5,000 people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square, outside of city hall. While most were attending to show support for the Palestinian cause, a smaller crowd of pro-Israel counter-protesters -- which the JDL claimed to have organized -- arrived as well.
Police formed a line between the two groups, yet after the protest, things turned violent just outside Nathan Phillips Square. While media reports that a Jewish man was attacked by Palestinian demonstrators as he appears to attempt to flee, videos have since emerged showing him fighting alongside JDL members against pro-Palestinian demonstrators and brandishing what appears to be a knife.
“The Toronto Police Service is aware of a separate assault on a man by several people that has been circulating on social media,” police said in a statement. “This incident took place outside of Nathan Phillips Square and is being actively investigated by police.”
In short order, the mayor’s office released a statement condemning antisemitism and pro-Israel advocacy groups condemned the violence against one of their own.
“I have asked [Police Chief James Ramert] to inform me as to the steps the service will be taking to investigate this and any other documented examples of unacceptable violence and hatred,” Toronto’s mayor wrote on social media shortly after.
A video showing a more complete version of events emerged yesterday. While the footage does not clearly show who started the conflict, the longer video provides some much-needed context for the situation.
In the previous video, the one initially circulated on social media, the lone man in blue is facing a barrage of makeshift clubs and fists while running from a crowd of young men. The new, longer clip starts earlier, with the group of men draped in Palestinian flags walking away from another group, many of whom are wearing black shirts bearing a closed fist within a Star of David, the symbol of the JDL. A man believed to be Zaza Vili, JDL Canada’s supposed “security director” is reportedly present. Also seen are two men, one wearing a JDL shirt, who earlier told journalist Morgan Yew, about the pro-Palestinian protesters, “if they want to bing, let’s go to work,” as he punches his palm.
A member from the pro-Israel group taunts the men walking away. Suddenly, off frame, an unseen inciting incident takes place. When the camera pans back, two men are struggling over control of a baton.
The crowds rush into each other and a brawl ensues.
The man in blue, seen in the first video being beaten and shoved by the crowd is seen holding a bat that he brandishes against people during the altercation. As the video progresses he loses his truncheon and pulls what appears to be a knife from his pocket.
He waves it at the men who try to approach him while others shout for him to put it down. He flees after another fighter blindsides him with a punch from behind.
Also appearing at the demonstration is fellow anti-Muslim activist Jordan Justein, who was a JDL member. His current status with the group is unknown.
In a video released to YouTube, his face covered by a pink balaclava and clad in a red Antifa sweater, the former Urban Infidel marched around Nathan Phillips Square with a megaphone.
First chanting the words, “free, free Palestine,” and shortly switching to “Viva, viva intifada,” he attempts to get the crowd chanting along with him with varying degrees of success.
“I’m here, I’m undercover. I’m dressed like antifa. My goal is to assume a leadership position inside the Palestinian movement’s protest today,” Justein told his cameraman after taking off his mask, adding that “Arabs” have no historical claim to Palestine.
Justein was previously charged with assaulting another member of the far-right movement, and started a number of altercations with the BLM encampment outside Toronto City Hall in the summer of 2020.
Established in 1960s New York City, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. According to Georgetown University, the Canadian branch of the JDL was established in 1979, and revived in 2006 by its current National Director, Meir Weinstein.
In 2017, a Vaughan man and JDL member was charged for his part in an assault that took place in Washington DC. According to Toronto's Now Magazine, Yosef Steynovitz was arrested after an altercation outside the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference was caught on video. Kamal Nayfeh, a 55-year-old Palestinian-American college teacher, was sent to the hospital with an eye injury that required 19 stitches. Brandon Vaughan, another JDL member and Proud Boy, was also charged.
Zaza Vili was at the same event in Washington. There was “another altercation involving JDL Canada ‘security director’ Zaza Vili and another member attacking protesters who were filming as they made their way to the event,” wrote Now.
“Vili can be heard calling one of the two men filming a ‘racist fuckin’ piece of shit. Hope you die,’ before abruptly turning on his heels and challenging the man to a fistfight.”
In 2018, JDL Canada came out strongly against the non-binding Motion 103, which called on the Canadian government to condemn Islamophobia, saying at the time the motion “promotes radical Islam.” JDL Canada had collaborated with a number of groups in the racist right, finding common ground in their anti-Muslim bigotry, before the antisemitism inherent to the movement eventually pushed them away.
Accusations against the original JDL extend from open racism and intolerance to plans by members to carry out terrorism. In 2001 members were arrested by the FBI in the “final stages” of planning attacks against the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, California, and the local office of a US Congressperson. This led the FBI to classify it as a terrorist organization.
According to the Canadian Jewish News, “in 2011, the RCMP launched an investigation into at least nine members of the Canadian JDL following an anonymous tip that they were planning to bomb Palestine House.” The RCMP did not reportedly return The CJN’s calls. Meir Weinstein, JDL Canada’s founder and national director, said nothing came of the probe.