By the end of the protest at the offices of Pride Toronto (PT) on April 15, members of the Jewish Defense League of Canada (JDL) were throwing anti-gay slurs like “fag” at a small, mostly silent group of rainbow flag-waving gay people.
On one side of the street were about 20 JDL supporters with Israeli and Canadian flags and signs with statements like “Palestine is a disease, a plague.” On the other side were about 12 PT supporters, smiling and trying not to be drawn into the JDL debate. “We’re protecting ourselves against fascist, racist homophobes,” said queer activist Ashleigh Ingle when asked about the fracas by a pedestrian.
“Go be gay in Saudi Arabia,” one JDL protestor shouted. Others chanted, “We love Rob Ford. Get it straight.”
JDL is an international organization dedicated to "protect Jews from anti-Semitism by whatever means necessary." It has chapters in several US states, Canada, South Africa and a few European countries. The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) describes the JDL as “a rightwing terrorist group” and says it has been involved in plotting terrorist attacks in the US. There is nothing to suggest that is true of the Canadian chapter.
The Toronto protest was a response to the April 12 city manager’s report that states, "City staff have determined that the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ in and of itself does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.” The JDL is calling on the city to strip PT funding if it does not “denounce” Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).
A JDL Facebook posting that circulated on April 12 states, “During the Nazi era, many high-ranking Nazis were gay.”
The protester who threatened an Xtra reporter at the Jewish Defense League protest at Pride Toronto April 15. "You're lucky there's cops here."
Prior to the protest, QuAIA released a statement announcing that it would not enter a contingent in this year's Toronto Pride parade. Some of the JDL protesters hadn’t heard the news that QuAIA had already pulled out of the parade. Others call QuAIA “liars.”
Meir Weinstein, national director of JDL Canada, says he doesn’t believe QuAIA will stay out of the parade. “They’ve lied before, and they will lie again. They can’t be trusted.”
Weinstein vows that the JDL will protest regularly until PT issues a “guarantee” that QuAIA will not be included in any Pride Week events. “Right now, we can’t differentiate between Pride Toronto and that hate group.”
The protest lasted about an hour and a half before the JDL group packed up and left. But just before going, one protester yelled, “We’ll be back, fags.”
Former PT board member Mark Smith shrugs. He says the QuAIA debate is quickly becoming “a non-issue.”
“This is a straight organization trying to tell Pride what to do,” he says. “This is homophobia. These people are anti-gay and racist.”
At one point a JDL supporter, who identified himself as Naresh Patel from the Canadian Hindu Advocacy group, threatened this reporter in hushed tones, saying, “You’re lucky there’s cops here.”
When a delivery truck pulled up in front of PT and a person of colour got out with a package, a JDL protester shouted, "Getting your shipment from Hezbollah?" No PT staff were inside to take the delivery.
The PT supporters responded by chanting, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay: JDL go away!”
One JDL demonstrator, yelling into a megaphone, expressed frustration with the anti-gay slurs and told the PT supporters that "Some of us aren't saying what we're supposed to be saying."
PT co-chair Francisco Alvarez says he hopes the JDL reconsiders protesting regularly at PT. "We're taking QuAIA at their word. We are proceeding as if they are not in the parade. I wish other people would take them seriously. If the JDL is protesting gays, that's a whole different issue. If that's the case, we will have to create a strategy around that."
Queer Ontario (QO) member Davina Hader says she’s not surprised the JDL is pledging to step up demonstrations. “Who’s to say another group with the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ in its name won’t try to march. And if they do, [QO] will support their right to free speech.”