Anti-Islam extremists EDL spread their tentacles
Right-wing EDL embarrasses British Jewish leaders - and seeks to make friends with the Tea Party
The image of the English Defence League (EDL) is very ugly and very straightforward: a group of right-wing extremists out to prevent "Islamic supremacism" in Britain, and prepared to take on police and beat up young Asians to get their point across.
But there is increasing concern that a group previously dismissed as thugs and nutcases is growing in influence.
The EDL appears to be spreading its tentacles in two particular directions. First, as part of its effort to demonise British Muslims, it purports to support Israel. To the huge embarrassment of Jewish community leaders in Britain it has even formed a "Jewish division".
Second, the EDL appears to be making connections with right-wing extremists in America, including anti-jihad groups associated with the Tea Party movement (patron saint: Sarah Palin).
Jewish community leaders in Britain are horrified at being associated with the EDL, who 10 days ago started a riot in Leicester where 1,000 supporters indiscriminately attacked local Asians and threw firecrackers and Army-issue grenades at police horses.
The EDL's so-called Jewish division is thought to number only about 100 people, and no one knows how many - if any - of them are actually Jewish. But the fact that it exists at all is doing the Jewish community no favours.
As Mark Gardner, communications director of the Community Security Trust, a charity established to promote the safety of Jewish people in Britain, told the Jewish Chronicle: "The EDL's Jewish branch is a tiny part of a far larger movement, dominated by white males who would previously have made up National Front marches and English football hooligan gangs.
"EDL actions are violent and intimidatory, attacking police and random Asians. Any Jews thinking that they can shape such dangerous forces and find shelter there are utterly deluded."
The uncomfortable truths about the EDL have come to a head in recent days because the group plans to hold a pro-Israel rally next Sunday outside the Israeli Embassy in Kensington, west London - to the dismay of the embassy.
"We wish to disassociate ourselves from next Sunday's event, and from any attempts to link Israel to the EDL," the embassy has said.
As if the rally was not provocative enough, the organisers have invited a controversial right-wing American rabbi to address the EDL supporters.
Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a former California lifeguard known as "the surfing rabbi", says he plans to warn the British that their country is being "lost" as Islamic fundamentalism gains power. "I see England going down and I want to cry out and do everything I can to prevent that, to work with the EDL," he says.
Nick Lowles, editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, calls EDL's invitation to Rabbi Shifren "a cynical ploy aimed at cultivating hatred between Jews and Muslims".
But there is more to it than that. Shifren is a regular speaker at events organised by the Tea Party, and his invitation has exposed the growing ties between the EDL and the anti-Islamic wing of the Tea Party.
Nottingham University Professor Matthew Goodwin, an expert on extremist groups in Britain, believes that this may be a first.
Extremist right-wingers have traditionally sought to team up with European neo-fascist groups. "Going to the US is particularly interesting because the far-right in Britain has never gone that way before," says Goodwin. "It has always gone toward Europe.
"If it does forge strong links to the Tea Party, it would be important because the Tea Party has significant resources."
The Jewish division of the EDL is led by Roberta Moore, a Brazilian-born right-wing Jewish activist. Moore has revealed that the EDL is also keen to team up with American Pamela Geller, the Islamaphobic blogger involved in the recent Ground Zero mosque protest.
Geller said that she has yet to agree to any joint projects with the EDL, but added: "I share their goal of resisting Islamic supremacism and defending free societies." ·
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