What should NY Jewry do to protect itself from antisemitism?

Tendency to politicize hatred has undermined American Jewish community’s effectiveness and credibility on antisemitism, says senior fellow.

First responders walk the area where 5 people were stabbed at a Hasidic rabbi's home in Monsey, New York (photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
First responders walk the area where 5 people were stabbed at a Hasidic rabbi's home in Monsey, New York
(photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
As the New York area deals with another alleged antisemitic attack in the space of just a few days, questions are being asked about what should be done to stop this horrific trend.
One of the big questions is whether an equivalent to the Jewish Defense League needs to be established to protect Jews facing antisemitism in the US, and especially in New York.
The JDL was founded by the late far-right politician MK Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 to protect Jews from antisemitism. In 2001, the FBI classified it as a right-wing terrorist group.
Former JDL member and Kahane student Shmuel Sackett said it is quite an interesting question to address on Hanukkah, the holiday that “celebrates a Jewish military uprising over the antisemitic Greek regime.”
He said communities need a strong and powerful JDL-like organization to combat the growing threat against Jews in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Chicago, Baltimore and every place where Jews live.
“The Jewish community needs to work closely with the police but, understandably, the police cannot be everywhere,” he explained. “Therefore every Jewish community needs to train their people in self-defense and acquire legal firearms.”
Sackett stressed that synagogues, yeshivot and community centers “must be guarded by Jews carrying legal firearms who are not afraid to use them, should a threat present itself.”
Although JDL stands for Jewish Defense League, Sackett said “the time has come for that group to also become the JOL – the Jewish Offense League – and take initiative to attack hate groups before they carry out their acts of violence.”
Making reference to Hanukkah, he said the Maccabees did not simply wait to defend themselves against the Greeks, “they hit them first. Therefore, the local Jewish communities need to do homework and research to uncover the hate that is rising in their backyard and eliminate it immediately.
“Most, if not all, Jewish groups will condemn this comment of mine, which does not surprise me, because that is how Jews [have] acted for 2,000 years: they defended themselves – and even that was a rare event!
“No more waiting,” Sackett said. “No more adding acts of antisemitism to the yearly report of the Anti-Defamation League. No more kvetching. We need to form a strong, proud and very tough JDL to defend and eliminate all acts of terror, even before they arise,” he said.
National director of the Jewish Defense League of Canada Meir HaLevi Weinstein argued that Jews must understand “that the progressive left-wing is responsible for the antisemitic climate today.”
“The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has a large network of groups... and Jews are blamed for practically everything... The progressive left wing must be called out and confronted,” he said.
Weinstein made it clear that there must be a Jewish defense league that will first change the Jewish mindset and let Jews know that Jews must be responsible for each other.
“The Jewish community must have such a group that will, if necessary, hit back in proper defense,” he said.
However, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, said the first step is for the entire mainstream Jewish community to agree to leave its ideologies outside the door and deal with antisemitism from whichever direction it appears.
“The tendency to politicize antisemitism to only condemn antisemitic outrages that comes from the rival political camp has undermined the American Jewish community’s effectiveness and credibility on antisemitism,” he explained. “The first step is to reclaim that lost credibility of American Jewry on antisemitism.”
As for practical steps, Klein Halevi said that in terms of how Jews can physically respond on the ground, “obviously there needs to be [Jewish] patrols of Jewish neighborhoods coordinated by the police, and whatever weapons are used on these patrols need to be legal and transparent.”
He said that in the years that the JDL was active in the streets of New York, “that rule didn’t always apply. Those were different times and the Jewish community was in a different place.
“I don’t think that American Jews should be forming private illegal militias,” Klein Halevi said. “American Jews should certainly be working with the police to help keep these streets safe for Jews – that’s very different to the way the JDL operated.”
For local Monsey rabbi, Shmuel Gancz of the Chabad of Suffern, New York, Gancz said community members need to heal from the trauma of the attack but they also need to start protecting themselves.
He said some community members have approached the county to get legal gun licenses. He emphasized the need for security outside all synagogues and Jewish establishments in the area.
“After the antisemitic attacks in New York City and Jersey City, we need to start protecting ourselves so that people know they can’t have a free for all,” he said.
“Outside our Chabad, we have a full time security guard that is armed with a gun.”