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My Brother's Keeper

Avi Friedman

Around the world, Jewish communities are beginning to feel that the protection they enjoy from local police and civic authorities is no longer sufficient to keep their communities safe, and have taken measures to augment internal security arrangements. With each new round of Arab-Israeli violence in the Middle East, Diaspora Jews — braced for the fallout in their own neighborhoods — are defending themselves.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The congregation at the Great Synagogue of Sarcelles in Paris heard the rumble of unrest shortly after noon on July 19. Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military response to ongoing rocket fire from Gaza, had been front-page news in France since the previous week, and anti-Semitic attacks immediately began to escalate around the country. In Sarcelles, a Paris neighborhood where tens of thousands of Jews live tensely amid a large Muslim community, police had banned a pro-Palestinian rally planned for Saturday afternoon, while local and national Jewish communities had maintained ongoing contact with police officials to ensure their protection. Ultimately, however, protesters ignored the police ban, and the “pro-Palestinian” rally quickly descended into a street festival of anti-Jewish violence. A 200-strong mob rioted in the streets of the neighborhood, stoning and looting Jewish-owned shops, setting garbage dumpsters on fire, and shouting “Slaughter the Jews,” “Hitler was right,” and “You are going to burn.” Two cars were torched, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown as a small synagogue. At the Great Synagogue, members of the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive (SPCJ), a volunteer security organization affiliated with the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), secured the doors as the rioting mob drew near, and waited for the storm to pass. Outside, however, the mob — undeterred by inadequate police protection — proceeded easily toward the Great Synagogue, armed with glass bottles, chairs, wooden planks, stones, mortars, and at least one ax. There they encountered some 40 Jews armed with clubs and iron bars, who managed to repel the thugs until additional riot police arrived on the scene. In the words of French Jewish journalist Bernard Abouaf, the atmosphere on the street was “pure urban guerrilla… I saw the brave young SPCJ, very professional, alongside the determined of the youth of the Jewish Defense League. I do not remember ever having written in defense of the JDL, but I can tell you that tonight, had they not been there, chas v’shalom, the synagogue would have been destroyed with all the people inside. Someone told me, ‘If they were not there, they would have burned the synagogue.’ ” The attempted pogrom in Sarcelles may have been an extreme case, but it was indicative of the spike in anti-Semitic threats and physical attacks that Diaspora communities have reported since the year 2000. From Atlanta to Australia, Jewish communities now feel that the protection they enjoy from local police and civic authorities is no longer sufficient to protect local Jews, and have taken measures to augment security arrangements in their communities.

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