The JDL, a League dedicated to Jewish Self-Defense
LE MONDE | 25.07.2014 à 11h16 • Mis à jour le 29.07.2014 à 09h29 |Par Caroline Monnot
Is the JDL run by this anonymous spokesman? Either way, the JDL’s website has recently undergone a facelift. It was a clean-up operation: for example, they pulled down the panegyric to Baruch Goldstein, responsible for the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarch in Hebron that was posted in February.
When you contact the Jewish Defense League, the ultra-right wing Jewish nationalist group, “Moshe Manouchian” responds to you by mail. The next day, he calls you on the telephone and introduces himself as “Mose Rayman.” When you ask your interlocutor, whose real identity you do not know, to explain the pseudonyms, names that belong to two heroes associated with the red flag, Communist resistance fighters from the FTP-MOI, he replies: “They’re respectable people, no?”
This man with the mature voice is quite a bit older than the militants for whom he acts as spokesman or as interface with the press. The message consists of a few points. Is the LDJ a violent extremist group? “Le Monde says that. We reject all forms of racism and violence (,,,) We want things to calm down. We have no intention of replacing the French police.” And, at the end of the conversation, “I’m sorry my moderation has disappointed you.” On Tuesday 22 July, the “benevolent” spokesman for the JDL, which “lends a helping hand,” gave a highly controlled interview to Le Monde. To the on-line news service “Jewish Telegraphic Agency” he introduced himself “Amon,” yet another pseudonym. In this case, he came across as a press secretary [un encadrant].
The Site Gives a Vague Air of Respectability.
The website includes a charter published on July 18. The JDL “rejects the myth of the Palestinian people” and defines itself as “an ideological emanation of the movement founded in the United States by Rabbi Meir Kahane.” Murdered in 1991, Kahane was the founder of the Jewish Defense League, which the FBI has listed as a terrorist organization since 2001. In Israel, his Kach Party was banned as a racist organization. Kach argued for the expulsion of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. This website features a photographs of Missak Manouchain next to Menachim Begin, the emblematic figure of the Zionist Right and prime minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983, of Ilam Halimi, a victim of Youssouf Fofana’s “Gang of Barbarians,” and of Myriam Monsonégo, the young girl shot at point blank range in front of the Ozar Hatorah Jewish School in Toulouse.
A new website, a charter and an (anonymous) spokesman for the press—all this gives the impression of an organization in the classic sense of the term. And a vague air of respectability, very far from what the JDL has represented since it first appeared in France early in the 2000s during the second Intifada.
The LDJ does not have an organizational map. Its hard-core membership consists of a few dozen people, but may have grown to 200-250. It operates a bit like an affinity group. But it has directives, slogans and networks that it relies on for mobilization. Its militants are rarely more than 25 years old and are well-known by their actions and, in some cases, by their repeated court appearances and convictions. Over the past 10 years, they have been accused of hundreds of assaults, which they characterize as “reprisal measures.”
“It’s often really primitive” explains an old Left Zionist militant. “An organization like Betar had journals and training classes. With them, there’s no ideological transmission.” Formerly a member of Betar and now an editor, David Reinharc knows some of them. “The young ones claim to follow Jablonky and Meier Kahane, but don’t know who they were.” For him “the JDL is a brand, a magnet for fools. There is a mystique about them. And they play with that. It’s very narcissistic.” He concludes: “They are young assholes who around whom an attraction-repulsion phenomenon has been created that they don’t deserve.” Samuel Ghiles Meilhac, a sociologist who specializes in the Jewish community, talks about “aimless Jewish youth. They like to beat people up. That gives them the chance to live with a little ‘Israeli-style virility’ without actually being there.”
But the Jewish Defense League is also a symptom. It’s presence in front of the synagogue on rue de la Roquette on July 13, where it confronted a group that came from the margins of a pro-Palestinian demonstration, gave it a new aura within a part of the Jewish community that felt itself to be not adequately protected. “In those days, they got the sympathy of the base community” argues Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Office of Vigilance against Anti-Semitism, which itself says there were problems “with these kids” in the recent past.
The discourse of “self-defense” used by the JDL resonates in the more popular areas of the 19th arrondissement or in the bigger suburbs (of Paris) where the CRIF and other big community institutions (in which the JDL plays no part) have not lived up to expectations. Samuel Ghiles-Meilhac points out: “There was the ‘Day of Rage’ and the murders in Brussels, there was La Roquette and Sarcelles. There is a strong sense within the Jewish community that there is a groundswell of anti-Semitism.” And he adds: The JDL is a very tricky topic for these community institutions. The climate of fear and the community’s shift to the right creates anger and ambivalence.”
A Convenient Red Flag
The JDL can be understood as an aspect of a populist and right-wing conflict with the elites who control Jewish institutions. Yonathan Arsi, one of the vice-presidents of the CRIF explains: “It reflects a social trend that is happening in our community. As usual, the squeakiest wheel gets the grease.” Gil Taieb, the other vice-president of CRIF, is one of the few institutional leaders that the JDL will sometimes listen to. Taeib argues: “We need to try a complete overhaul. Finger-pointing that allots them a disproportionate role pleases them. At the same time, they’re a convenient red flag. There are people among them who can be recuperated. There are others, more out of control, who won’t accomplish anything. Those to go around chanting “Death to Arabs!” must understand that they are putting us in danger. We have to eliminate that.” A directory that includes the personal addresses of the most visible members of the JDL has been circulating through social networks in recent days. The leadership of community groups is concerned: “If there is a serious incident, it will get out of control.”