This is a translation of an article from Libération including an interview with a founder of the JDL. Thanks to Andrew Miller for translating.
The Jewish Defense League, an Extremist Micromilitia.
Libération spoke with one of the founders of this extra-legal organization whose members, fond of street brawls, adhere to a radical Zionism.
Loud and speaking informally, the man says his name is Itshak Rayman and that he's a spokesperson for the Jewish Defense League(JDL). Over the telephone, he tells me to meet him in a McDonalds in the République neighborhood of Paris "for the air conditioning." Once there, the unctuous sexagenarian lets me know that two of his followers are keeping watch over the restaurant and that he's well-aware of whom he's speaking with. As for the name that he gave, it's really just an alias, alongside "Michaël Carlisle," "Eliahou Tubiana" and "the old man." His real name is Jean-Claude Nataf. He is one of the organizers who, in 2001, founded the JDL with Pierre Lurçat. This pretty much sums up the ambiance of our encounter with this controversial organization which sees itself as the bodyguard of the Jewish community.
On Sunday July 13, a few dozen militants attacked pro-Palestinian protestors not far from the synagogue of La Roquette. Video evidence shows JDL militants pursuing their adversaries, brandishing chairs and bar tables while shouting "Palestine, we fuck you in the ass!" The next weekend in Sarcelles, they once again confronted pro-Palestinian protestors while armed with baseball bats, hammers, brass knuckles and tear-gas canisters in order to defend a synagogue which the police had already cordoned off.
In addition to protecting religious sites, the JDL doesn't hesitate to take on anyone it considers an enemy of Israel. In June, two of its sympathizers were sentenced to ten months in prison for having attempted use a home-made bomb on the car of a young Jewish man who had criticized Israel's policies on his blog. These heavy-handed methods are part and parcel of the movement; beginning in 2002, hardly a year after its formation, one of its sympathizers stabbed a young police commissaire on the edges of a protest. The officer was seriously wounded while his attacker fled to Israel where he is currently incarcerated for an unrelated offense.
While the JDL disassociates itself from the most extreme actions of its sympathizers, it nevertheless asserts the Jewish community's right to "self-defense." "The police expect a wave of (anti-semitic) attacks in France" claims Jean-Claude Nataf. "Yet there is no will to stop this and the Crif (the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions) refuses to put its foot down. We don't wish harm on any Muslims. But they better not come and fuck with us" would also work. The co-founder went on to illustrate the role of the JDL: "Fifteen days ago, we received a call warning us that a young Jew was being attacked at knife point at Beaubourg [ndlr: the neighborhood around the Centre Pompideau, close to but outside of the Jewish neighborhood of the Marais.] Five minutes later, we had five of our guys on the scene looking for the attackers." Marriages, protests, business deals... The organization "secures" wherever it chooses.
The JDL, which enjoys no legal recognition, has no known fixed headquarters in Paris. It is financed exclusively through private donations, affirms Nataf. Its financial cover is Solidarity Israel, legally incorporated in 2011 with Joseph Ayache as its president. This thirty-something former member of Betar (a youth Zionist movement) who completed a tour of military service with the IDF is considered by the police to be the principal leader of the JDL alongside David Bettey, 36. Below them on the hierarchy, "the core membership constitutes between 30 and 40 people" according to a police source. "But the movement has a strong mobilizing capacity and can marshal up to 200 people by tapping into the membership of the Betar and the SPCJ (the Protection Service of the Jewish Community, a security service under the aegis of Crif and of the Israelite Central Consistory of France) and from the young Jews from working-class neighborhoods."
For the political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, the JDL represents "the Jewish streets of East Paris and the Parisian banlieue where the situation can often be difficult for Jewish residents." Its militants come from a brawling culture, ardently practicing Mixed Martial Arts or Krav Maga. This method of close-quarters fighting, used most notably by the IDF, is designed for concrete situations, such as when one's adversary is armed with a gun.
The most zealous militants hold an ideology as severe as their training. "The major figure of reference for them are Vladimir Jabotinsky (1884-1940, a figure of radical Zionism, ndlr) and the Israeli-American Meir Kahane," explains Jean-Yves Camus. An extreme nationalist, Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990, created in 1968 the American Jewish Defense League, which the FBI classified as a terrorist organization in a 2001 report. He also founded the Kach party in Israel which was banned in 1994 due to its racism. Although the French branch of the JDL is technically separate from its American counterpart, they share the same name and emblem and the charters of both organizations cite Kahane as an inspiration. For Jean-Yves Camus, the JDL is clearly an "organisation identitaire." [ndlr: a xenophobic organization based around a single ethnic or religious group. The closest American term, "hate group" doesn't quite capture the same nuance.] For instance, in a tweet from April 2014, the JDL claimed that "assimilation and mixed marriages have cost the lives of more Jews than the Holocaust."
Blue-White-Red In 2001, in an article published on its site which was promptly withdrawn, the organization expressed "cautious support" for Marine Le Pen. A communiqué published soon after denied this support while still noting that the positions taken by the FN "against Islamization (remain) a significant step to solving the urgent problems in our country." Jean-Claude Nataf himself was present during a FN march on May 1, 2013. The vice-president of the FN, Louis Aliot, remembers having encountered him during the "Blue-White-Red" festival [ndlr: an annual FN gathering] in 2003. "We don't sympathize with the FN, but why ignore the real danger?" responds Nataf. "Nowadays, 100% of our attackers come from ' [ethnic] diversity.' "
Such are the principal reasons why the JDL is considered anathema to Palestinian sympathizers. "We're talking about a small, private militia" according to Dominique Cochain, a well-known lawyer and advocate for the Palestinian cause, who lists off numerous cases of "pure and simple assaults" attributed to the League. In July 2012 for instance, Olivia Zemor, President of the CAPJPO-EuroPalestine, was drenched in paint by JDL members claiming to be journalists. These attacks continue unpunished, claim the JDL's detractors, who accuse the authorities of turning a blind eye towards the JDL's activities. "Individual members are prosecuted and lightly punished, but the authorities never turn their sights on the organization" Dominique Cochain accuses. Nataf does not even attempt to deny charges of impunity; "We have nothing against the police. On the contrary," he says with a smile. "During the protests on July 13, we even worked with them; the police saw perfectly well who were the aggressors and who were defending themselves." He adds, "In any case, we have everything we could ask for with [Manuel] Valls.”
The JDL's radicalism has earned it severe criticism from other Jewish organizations. For the President of the Union of Jewish Students in France, Sacha Reingewirtz, the organization "is fundamentally opposed to the values of both the Republic and of Judaism. It maintains a violent and racist ideology which must be condemned in the same way as we condemn anti-semitism." For the President of Crif, Roger Cukierman, "the JDL does not present a positive image of Jews in France and I cannot condone its methods" However, he judges that "many Jews have the impression that the authorities do nothing to protect them. Before we consider banning the JDL, let's worry about those who attack the synagogues. Because there's a serious risk that they'll create their own private militias." As moderate as this criticism may be, it elicits only laughs from Jean-Claude Nataf: "Officially, we and Crif have no connection. The reality is that whenever they organize something, we're there to help protect- but from the exterior." And the "old man" gloats that the JDL has recently received more messages of support than ever before.
Translated by Andrew Miller