Belgian Jewish leaders denounced calls for their governments to issue gun permits to members of their communities this weekend, saying that such efforts could lead to harrowing consequences.
Last week, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the Brussels-based head of the European Jewish Association (EJA) and the affiliated Rabbinical Center of Europe, sent a letter to senior officials in a number of EU states requesting that gun laws be loosened to allow “designated people” among Europe’s Jews “to own weapons for the essential protection of their communities.”
Both community heads and Jewish business owners should be trained in firearms and be permitted to carry them, he said in a statement.
“There is absolutely no intention to create a pro-active force.
Rather, we expect local authorities to identify, train and oversee all designated armed personnel,” Margolin said.
Belgian Jews were quick to distance themselves from Margolin’s comments, asserting that he does not represent their communities.
“I think that he has no authority to speak in the name of Belgian Jewry because he doesn’t represent Belgian Jewry,” Abraham Guigui, the country’s chief rabbi, told The Jerusalem Post
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Over the weekend, Guigui issued a statement blasting what he called marginal elements and stating that calls for the arming of Jews were “a real danger and unacceptable.”
Calling for Jewish gun ownership would be tantamount to an admission that the Jews are outside of mainstream European society and that their governments are unable to provide for their security, he explained.
Such a view is considered unacceptable to the vast majority of Belgian Jews, he said, calling on the government to defend every Belgian no matter his religious creed.
“If every one who is in danger requests a gun, today that’s the Jews, tomorrow it’s the imams… it will be a land of anarchy.”
The Coordination Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations also decried Margolin’s call to arms, issuing a statement calling it ridiculous and asserting that the EJA was “in no way representative of the Belgian Jewish Community.”
“He [Margolin] is not connected at all with the Belgian- Jewish [umbrella] organizations,” said Baron Julien Klener, the president of the Jewish Central Consistory of Belgium, joining his voice to other organizations alarmed at the idea of arming Jews.
Following widespread criticism, a spokeswoman for Margolin clarified that he “never asked that every Jew carries a gun and does not advocate widespread gun use” but rather that he believes that “given the serious current climate, where Jews are afraid to go to the synagogue, to Jewish school or [to the] kosher supermarket, each Jewish institution – whether synagogue, school, kindergarten, or Jewish store… should be protected by the authorities across Europe.” Should governments find themselves unequal to that task, then community representatives should be armed, she said.
“However, if there are countries who are unable to make sure that Jewish institutions are secured by the government, then at least each Jewish community that will choose two or three people to protect the community – well, in most Jewish communities you have a security guard to protect the community,” Margolin subsequently told the Post
, asserting that his views had been misrepresented in the media.
Jewish schools in Antwerp and Brussels were temporarily closed on Friday after two terrorism suspects were killed in a raid in Verviers on Thursday.
In a statement released through the Conference of European Rabbis on Friday, Guigui said he was horrified by the closures as they seemed a sign of an “inability to secure us as befits a sovereign state.”
Representatives of the Belgian Jewish community met with Prime Minister Charles Michel on Thursday to discuss security arrangements, presenting them with a list of demands and recommendations, Eli Ringer, executive vice-chairman of the Forum of Jewish Organizations told the Post
in an email.
“One of the problems was how to find a solution for the insufficient number of policemen to protect among others, the Jewish community, we told them as THEY are responsible and they are in charge to protect every citizen.”
“On Thursday evening, we decided after the dramatic events of Verviers and after getting some advice, to temporary close the schools on Friday in Antwerp and in Brussels,” he explained. “We are not in panic or in fear but the maximum security for our children is our major priority, so we took this painful decision, but there were no instructions to close synagogues, I imagine that some people overreacted, which is quite normal.”
Community officials expressed confidence that their government would be able to protect them but it is likely that just as Jews in France are feeling the strain, such sentiments are present in Belgium as well.
According to Margolin, the EJA and RCE exist as parallel institutions to the European Jewish Congress and its affiliated Conference of European Rabbis and as EJA President, he can speak for a large constituency.
In response, the EJC stated that it “is the only democratically- elected representative organization of European Jewry.”
Last May, a gunman killed four people during an attack on Brussels’ Jewish museum, which many compared to the 2012 massacre at the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse, France.Reuters contributed to this report.
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