After years of treating the Jewish Defence League as if they were a rogueish but loveable younger brother, Canadian Jewish Congress supremo Bernie Farber has finally said something about the JDL that’s stronger than “they’re not my cup of tea” or that he’s “disappointed” by them. Farber’s epiphany, in the form of an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun, is a response to the JDL’s rally last week in support of Britain’s extremist English Defence League. 

It’s a shame Farber and other self-appointed leaders of the Canadian Jewish community have looked the other way or been quietly encouraging of the JDL over the past few years as it has organized and grown and been busy on campuses and even high schools recruiting youth.

The JDL is and always has been a hate group and a violent one at that and Farber et al’s insistence that the Canadian JDL is somehow different than its U.S. counterpart has only given them cover and allowed them to work unopposed within the Jewish community. Had any other group said about Jews what the JDL has long said about Muslims the CJC would have been rightly outraged and insisted that the group in question be ostracized.

Instead, Farber has always quietly defended the JDL or, at worst, issued the mildest of rebukes. This is perhaps his greatest failure as a “liberal” who has been too opportunistic and too wary of being outflanked on the right to say anything. Indeed, he has been so reticent to be critical that JDL head Meir Weinstein actually thinks of Farber as a friend and speaks glowingly of him to others.

Now that the JDL’s extremism is undeniable will Farber finally do what he should have done years ago and work to ostracize the JDL within the Jewish community and try to deny them the space to organize? Somehow, I doubt it. There would be a political price to pay and Farber lacks the integrity needed to expend the political capital needed to root out the JDL. He’d much rather ostracize and marginalize Independent Jewish Voices for the crime of criticizing Israel than to consistently oppose the JDL, an organization rooted in a variety of ultra-nationalism that can only be called fascism.

Still, it’s good that he had this printed in the Toronto Sun, it’s a modest step. Let’s see if he issues a similar, or hopefully stronger, missive in the Canadian Jewish News. Will he actually meet with the principals of Jewish Day Schools and urge them to ban the JDL from their schools? Will he ask Jewish campus groups to refuse to work with the JDL? Will he ask the UJA to freeze them out? Or can we expect this summer, yet again, the sight of Meir Weinstein walking down the route of the annual Walk With Israel like a conquering hero or some fascist version of the King of Kensington, kibbitzing and patting the back of every “community leader” he encounters, including Farber, as if Weinstein is a somebody, a Big Man on the Jewish Campus? IJV and its predecessor ACJC have warned about the JDL and urged Farber and others to denounce them. While I’m sure we’re gratified that, however late in the day, Farber has finally seen the light let’s see if this epiphany will last. Farber’s started talking the talk. Will he and the “leadership” of the Jewish community now walk the walk?

Andy Lehrer serves on the steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices (Canada).