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April 2, 2015 / 13 Nisan, 5775
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Against Anti-Semitism, Self-Defense Is No Offense


Jews inside Paris synagogue surrounded by protesters throwing rocks, holding bats and chairs.

Jews inside Paris synagogue surrounded by protesters throwing rocks, holding bats and chairs.
Photo Credit: Twitter Feed

The debate about whether Jews have a future in Europe once again surfaced as Israel’s Operation Protective Edge gained momentum in response to Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.

The two issues are connected for a simple reason: on July 13, a large number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Paris decided to attack a synagogue in the French capital, thereby demonstrating that these days, aspiring pogromists are more likely to wear a Palestinian keffiyeh than a swastika armband.

I had originally intended to write about whether Europe’s Jews should stay where they are or make aliyah to Israel. But while I was sifting through the various news articles concerning the attack in Paris, I came across an alternative version of that episode that changed my focus.

In this tendentious narrative, the violence was in fact provoked by Jewish extremists on the scene. According to one left-wing, anti-Israel website, the French branch of the Jewish Defense League and its allies initiated the clashes “in support of Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign that has thus far claimed the lives of almost 200 Palestinians.”

London’s Daily Mail, meanwhile, harrumphed at the spectacle of “a group of 150 Jewish men… brandishing iron bars and cans of pepper spray as they clashed with pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Paris.”

What isn’t in doubt is that a mob of violent anti-Semites tried to storm the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in central Paris. Equally, there is no doubt that a group of brave young Jews associated with Betar, the Jewish Defense League, and the SPCJ, the official defense arm of the French Jewish community, repelled the attempted pogrom through a show of physical force.

Hence, there is a question that is more pressing than whether Jews should leave Europe, and it’s this one: Should we take more responsibility for the physical defense of our community and its property, even if that means we land on the wrong side of the law?

There are many reasons why we should avoid such an outcome, some of them credible, others less so. Groups like the SPCJ in France and the Community Security Trust in Britain have done a tremendous job of enhancing security at Jewish institutions, working closely with local authorities in the process. Why, then, take actions that risk those relationships? Surely, in democratic societies, we resolve our differences through politics, and we let the police take care of law and order?

Then there’s the fact that Jewish communities, and particularly their leaders, tend to take a conservative approach. Especially in America, Jewish advocacy revolves around gala fundraising dinners, conferences, and photo opportunities with foreign leaders. Throwing tables, chairs, kicks, and punches at anti-Semitic thugs isn’t quite our style.

Now, all those considerations are sound ones. But what happens when you have demonstrators chanting in Arabic, as they did in Paris, “Itbah al Yahud” – “Death to the Jews”?

How do we respond when some politicians, as was the case in France, warned that we should expect such attacks if we turn our synagogues into adjuncts of the state of Israel?

In those circumstances, I think, we have to fight back. We shouldn’t provoke violence, but we should be ready to defend ourselves against attacks, particularly when the police fail to do their job.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t the first time Jews have faced this sort of dilemma. In the late 1940s, in London’s East End, the British Union of Fascists returned to the streets, harassing Jewish businesses and beating up Jews, frequently citing the conflict between the authorities in the British Mandate of Palestine and the Zionist Yishuvas justification.

At a meeting of 43 Jews in the area, who later became known as the “43 Group,” it was decided that enough was enough. The result wasn’t pretty.

“In October 1947, the 43 Group was attacking an average of 15 outdoor fascist meetings a week, and by whatever means, causing more than half to close down prematurely,” wrote Morris Beckman in his memoir of the 43 Group’s exploits.

Those “means” included knives, knuckledusters and bricks. And it worked. By the end of 1949, the fascists had been driven out of east London.

In these dark days, the experience of the 43 Group reminds us that in the not-so-distant past, Jews have refused to accept their lot as passive victims. The challenge now is balancing our respect for the law of the land with our resolve not to allow our synagogues to be burned or ransacked, as they were less than a century ago in Europe.

Used sparingly and when necessary, self-defense is no offense. And if it contributes to the authorities’ taking pre-emptive action against anti-Semitic demonstrations – as has occurred in France, where the police have banned another anti-Semitic rally scheduled for this past weekend in Paris – then so much the better.

About the Author: Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz, and other publications. His book “Some Of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014), is available through Amazon.


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20 Responses to “Against Anti-Semitism, Self-Defense Is No Offense”

  1. Scum is your signature Duha Alrifai…. I assume with what you’re able to write.?Do you think God is at your service …?? I’m not Jewish, I’m a Catholic and I find that their place IS in this country that belongs to them for more than 2000 years without interruption ….. and they are no “razziers” …They worked it out …:)

  2. Chaya Mindal says:

    Where is the French Army?

  3. Chaya Mindal says:

    Where is the French Army?

  4. They should defend themselves

  5. Shalom Isaacson.you should get out of the Jews

  6. Absolutely! Where is the JDL these days? Making Aliyah would be the best solution. Israel waits with open arms.

  7. Kim Sloan says:

    The authorities or police don’t give a hoot about Jews! We must physically fight back and defend our friends, family & property now! We must not be bullied, or cower to violent anti Semitic people who purposely chant Death to Jews! That is a terrorist threat and must be met with force! Never Forget, Never Again!

  8. Izik Izik says:

    Noooo Jews in Europe need get up pack and move to Israel our true home

  9. They sould defend themselfs and they should be suing the French government for not protecting their citizens and for damages.

  10. Elaine Stone says:

    All of the countries around the world do not hate Israel! Texas loves Israel as does the majority of Americans! You however are another story.

  11. Now, that’s a stupid question. Of course they should.

  12. How long dos it take to learn you are not wanted? France is an Islamic cesspool – Most of Europe is anti Jewish. Time to abandon the sinking ship.

  13. Knate Stahl says:

    Duha Alrifai, you are one sick, bigoted idiot. That’s about the nicest thing I can say. You think Allah teaches you to spread your ignorance and hatred? How sad. Allah mus be shedding tears seeing people like you invoking His sacred name to sponsor hatred.

  14. Yes. The Jewish people should defend themselves.

  15. No they are entitled to same protection as other citizen of the country they live in

  16. Lina Soifer says:

    Were out numbered. Europe is infested! We must get out.

  17. I like the way you think

Comments are closed.

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