May 21, 2017

'Everybody was kicking me': Alleged beating by Canadian man at D.C. protest leads to condemnation of Jewish Defence League

Stewart Bell
National Post
April 10, 2017


TORONTO — Videos showing men in Jewish Defence League shirts beating a Palestinian-American college instructor in Washington, D.C., have led to renewed criticism of the controversial group and its links to violence.

“Everybody was kicking me and punching me,” said Kamal Nayfeh, 55, who required 18 stitches around his eye following the March 26 assault. Among those arrested was a Toronto man affiliated with the JDL’s Canadian branch.

Police have filed an assault charge against Yosef Steynovitz, whom JDL leader Meir Weinstein described as “a gentleman who comes to a variety of JDL activities.” The police report called it a suspected hate crime motivated by anti-Arab bias.

The incident, which took place outside a conference on American-Israeli relations, comes amid concerns about the Toronto-based JDL Canada’s associations with an increasingly vocal anti-Muslim alliance.

In recent months, JDL members have provided security to Sandra Solomon, the national spokeswoman for Rise Canada, which describes Muslims on its Twitter account as “rotten from the time they drop from the womb” and supports their mass deportation.

Photos taken in Toronto at a demonstration against a Liberal MP’s anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, show a man in a JDL Canada jacket with his arm around someone wearing a jacket bearing the logo of the Soldiers of Odin group, which calls Islam a “totalitarian ideology” on its Facebook page.

Also, last month at a meeting of groups opposed to Muslim prayers in the Toronto-area Peel District School Board, Rise Canada adviser Ron Banarjee said the groups “have allegiances, we have contacts with different groups like the Jewish Defence League of Canada.”

The beating of Nayfeh, who described the incident in an interview as an unprovoked hate crime, has brought renewed condemnation of the JDL, which formed almost 50 years ago to patrol Jewish neighbourhoods in New York City during a period of racial tensions.

“The JDL began in the ’60s with all good intentions of wanting to protect Jews,” said Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress and now executive director of the Mosaic Institute, a charity that promotes diversity.

“They’ve turned a dark corner over the last five years to a point where they have now made common cause with racists and bigots and they themselves appear to have embraced racism and bigotry.”

In an April 2 statement, Weinstein, the international director of the JDL, responded to what he called the defamation of the group since the attack on Nayfeh and said “selectively spliced videos” on the Internet didn’t tell the whole story.

Weinstein said he regretted that violence had occurred but claimed the attack was sparked when Nayfeh came “to assault” Rise Canada’s Solomon, who was demonstrating with the JDL crowd outside the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

Nayfeh, who teaches networking technology at a North Carolina community college, told the National Post the suggestion he was to blame was laughable. He said he was dropping off his daughter, a law student, at the event when he decided to make sure it was safe for her.

He said he approached Solomon because she was saying there was no such thing as Palestine and he wanted to correct her because he was himself a Palestinian. But when he neared her, the JDL group began to push and hit him, he said.

“A lot of punches, a lot of hitting and then I fell down to the ground,” he said. Videos show men in JDL shirts kicking him while he was down and a man jabbing him with a flagpole bearing the American flag.

Police officers moved in quickly to break it up but Nayfeh’s face was cut and bloodied and he said his back was hurt. “They were there to make trouble,” Nayfeh said of the JDL. The day before the attack, he added, he had visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The JDL has been both a victim and perpetrator of violence for many years. In 1990, its founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, was assassinated by an Egyptian-born extremist. Four years later, a JDL member murdered 29 Palestinians at a Hebron mosque.

The chairman of the JDL, Montreal-born Irv Rubin, was arrested in 2001 for allegedly plotting to bomb a mosque in Culver City, Calif., as well as the office of an Arab-American congressman. He committed suicide in prison.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the JDL “a radical organization that preaches a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism” and is responsible for “countless terrorist attacks” as well as “intense harassment” of Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders.

The group currently has branches in Canada, Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and Russia, the SPLC says. In a Passover message on Sunday, Weinstein said that in the past month the JDL had “made a positive difference” in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, New York City, Washington, Chicago, Poland and France.

The JDL was looking to expand into other centres, he said in his April 2 statement. “We want the JDL back, and people want the JDL back,” he wrote. “It’s time to not let Jews be intimidated any longer or assaulted any longer. This should be the challenge for us now, to turn a corner.”

The JDL Canada website argues that Jews today are in a war of survival worse than during the Nazi era and laments a Jewish leadership too blinded to see it. Recently, the JDL called an emergency meeting over videos filmed at mosques in Toronto and Montreal, in which violence against Jews was preached from the pulpit.

A March 16 JDL email about “disturbing reports of radical Islam entering the pubic school system” included a link to the Freedom Report, which has been condemned for offering a reward to a student who films “Islamic hate speech” inside a Peel school. The school board has called the reward “hate-filled showmanship.”

A photo of a car with a “JDL Patrol” logo on the door was distributed by the group on March 21. “Anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish communities have increased dramatically, and therefore JDL security patrols have begun,” it said.

Asked about the JDL’s recent activities, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs spokesman Martin Sampson said the community rejected violence. “The approach adopted by the JDL is not reflective of the mainstream Canadian Jewish community.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it expected police to maintain the peace. “Should any individual or group promote hate or violence, we expect the authorities to bring them to justice,” spokeswoman Amira Elghawaby said.

In an interview, Weinstein said he opposed violence and complained that those who raised their voices against the threat of Islamist extremism were automatically branded fascist and white supremacist.

He said Solomon had asked the JDL to provide security for her at the event in Toronto because of death threats she had received. He said he wasn’t completely familiar with the Soldiers of Odin but said “the ones I’ve spoken to, they made it very clear to me that they’re not racist.”

As for the assault at the AIPAC conference two weeks ago, he said he and a JDL contingent had gone there “to have a counter-protest against the anti-Israel protests that seem to have been a tradition there.”

He said anti-Israeli protesters had been committing assaults throughout the day because police failed to keep the sides apart. Weinstein said he himself was assaulted. “We didn’t go there with any pre-meditated thinking to do any violence,” he said. “But violence broke out and the person whose picture is going around who was the victim, he’s not so innocent, that’ll come out.”

But Nayfeh said he believed he walked into a trap that day and that what he suffered was a hate crime. “Absolutely, there is no other reason, you know, why would they attack me. I haven’t spoken a word to them other than saying to the woman ‘I am Palestinian,’ or ‘I am Palestine’ and then the other word that I said was ‘Don’t touch me.’ And then I deserved to be beaten like that maliciously with a flag pole into my eye?”

• Email: sbell@nationalpost.com | Twitter: @StewartBellNP



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