The Jewish Defense League of Canada wants to set up a chapter in Montreal, citing an increase in attacks on Jews.
The national director of the Toronto-based JDL, Meir Weinstein, told local media he has been contacted by Montreal residents who would like to see a chapter set up in the city.
In interviews, Weinstein denied his group is controversial or militant.
“We have a very serious history in Canada – fighting anti-Semitism, exposing Nazi war criminals and a variety of neo-Nazi groups in the city. … We’ve worked very hard in this country against physical threats to the community, and I’m very proud of my history with the organization.”
The FBI identified the JDL as a “right-wing terrorist group” in reports on terrorism in 2000 and 2001, citing a thwarted bomb plot in 2001 against a California mosque that involved members of the organization, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
In Canada, the JDL has not been identified as a terrorist group.
But since the start of the current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the group has been on the front lines of both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests, with one of its members bloodied in a recent scuffle in Toronto.
Some observers have noted that the JDL has signified a return to the in-your-face, sometimes violent, street protests the group staged in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.
“For anyone who says we are ultra-nationalist, I’m not exactly sure what they mean,” Weinstein told Montreal radio station CJAD. “We’re proud to be Canadians, and we uphold Canadian law, and we support the state of Israel. Confrontation is part of it.”
David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said that for the first time in years the conflict in the Middle East has led to a rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in Montreal.
“I would expect that JDL is making this calculation, knowing this is a time when many in the Jewish community are concerned with their safety, that the time is right to try and make inroads,” he told CBC.
Ouellette said the JDL hasn’t had a presence in Quebec in years and has had a difficult time establishing itself in any significant way. “They really stand on the fringes of our community,” he said.
Montreal Rabbi Reuben Poupko agreed, saying the local community already has a good working relationship with police and doesn’t need an outside group to agitate.
“There is nothing to be gained from a street confrontation,” Poupko told Montreal’s CJAD radio news.