Following my previous column on the need for American Jews to form a nationwide self-defense organization, I received many responses, all of them positive, but most of them also deeply frustrated. Everyone appears to agree on the need for such an organization, but no one seems to know how to go about organizing one. I do not exclude myself. Regretfully, I share the general sense of frustration.
At the moment, unfortunately, American Jews have very few options. The JDL is long dead—which is probably a good thing—and no similar organization has arisen in the ensuing decades. There are smaller groups such as Magen Am, which is active in parts of California and Arizona, but they remain localized. Theoretically, they could grow into a larger organization, but it increasingly seems like a more comprehensive effort undertaken by serious professionals will be necessary.
Such an effort, I believe, will require the involvement of the Israeli government. That is, Israel must recognize that the security of Jewish communities worldwide is one of its responsibilities as a Jewish state, and begin to involve itself in helping those communities defend themselves and their institutions.
There are obvious practical reasons for Israeli involvement. In Europe and elsewhere, the authorities are usually either helpless or indifferent to the rise in antisemitic violence, which tends to originate in communities they either fetishize or fear, and with which they are often in political sympathy. As a result, they prefer to either ignore or undermine the security of the Jewish communities they are sworn to protect. If such authorities will not or cannot fulfill their responsibilities in this regard, another force of comparable size and strength must step in.
In the U.S., thankfully, the authorities are mostly responsive, though there are exceptions such as university administrators and leftist politicians. As well-meaning as the authorities are, however, the government and police have inherently limited resources and cannot be everywhere all the time. Moreover, they can serve and protect, but they cannot interdict or preempt, and that is what is required if the problem is to be properly tackled. When a synagogue is vandalized or a Jew is beaten by antisemitic thugs, the best the authorities can do is track down the perpetrators and enact hate crimes legislation. This is important but insufficient.
This is due to the simple fact that the expenditure in time and treasure necessary to secure a minority of several millions is beyond the capacity of the federal and most state and local governments. Once again, it is clear that a comparable force that can concentrate solely on the security of the Jewish community must take over. Israel alone can fill this role.
Moreover, Israel has a responsibility to get involved. Israel’s raison d’être is to empower and defend the Jewish people, wherever they might be. For generations, the Jewish state has been intertwined with the American Jewish community, and this would simply be another step in that relationship. In moments of crisis, Israel has often turned to its American brethren for aid and support. Israel, of course, is in crisis again, but now American Jews are as well, and Israel has the capacity to aid and support them as it never did in the past.
Only Israel, moreover, can offer the necessary equipment and training in self-defense, intelligence, security and so on that American Jews require. Israel is a world leader in such fields and can provide a level of professionalism and organization that American Jews, at the moment, cannot provide for themselves.
Of course, should Israel get involved in securing the American Jewish community, it would have to do so in the right way. It should make it clear to the community and especially to the U.S. government that it is not attempting to interfere in American domestic affairs. It is offering a collaboration, not seeking to usurp authority. Moreover, Israel should note that there are precedents at hand. For example, American law enforcement officials have undergone training in Israel, and there is no reason why Israel should not train American Jews in similar skills.
Israel should also make every effort to work through existing institutions, such as the major Jewish organizations, recognized community leaders, law enforcement officials, elected representatives, and so on. All its activities in this regard ought to be as public as possible, with only those most essential to security kept confidential.
It is likely that American Jews will have concerns about turning to Israel for help. They will fear charges of dual loyalty, conspiracy theories about the Mossad and the Elders of Zion, even of inadvertently worsening the situation.
But American Jews should ask themselves a simple question: Would you feel safer, more secure and better defended if Israel were involved? I believe that, in almost all cases, the answer would be “yes.”
As the saying goes, “All Israel is responsible for one another.” Israeli and American Jews have long believed this to be true, and it is now time for the former to stand up and fulfill its responsibilities to the latter.