Navigate to News section

It’s Time for Europe’s Jews To Arm Themselves

European Jews are soft targets for jihadists who want to kill them. They need guns.

Liel Leibovitz
February 20, 2015
(Photo illustration: Tablet Magazine / Esther Werdiger; original photos: Shutterstock)
(Photo illustration: Tablet Magazine / Esther Werdiger; original photos: Shutterstock)

Ever since I heard the horrible news from Copenhagen this weekend I’ve been haunted by one persistent thought. I was thinking about Dan Uzan, the 37-year-old volunteer who was shot in the head as he stood outside his local synagogue on a frigid night to make sure that inside a young girl and her family could celebrate the girl’s bat mitzvah in peace. I tried to imagine what his last moments might’ve looked like as he saw Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, the alleged gunman, approaching. And then I had one more thought, more urgent than the others: What if Uzan had been armed? What if he at least had a chance, as he stared down the barrel of a gun, to draw his own and shoot first? What if the shoppers in Paris’ kosher supermarket packed heat when Amedy Coulibaly walked in? If Ilan Halimi had a pistol, would we know his name today?

Arming Europe’s Jews against the jihadi psychos who are trying to kill them for is not the sort of proposition that decent, liberal people like to entertain. Decent, liberal people believe in reasonable measures. Sadly, the savages who shot Uzan do not. Nor do the beasts who twice attacked a synagogue south of Stockholm last summer, or the lowlifes who desecrated hundreds of Jewish graves in France earlier this week. Nor did Mohammed Merah, who shot up a Jewish school in Toulouse so he could upload a video of himself killing Jewish children as they screamed in terror.

Against such rampant violence, decent, liberal people look up to governments to maintain law and order. And Europe’s governments certainly excel at paying lip service to their Jewish citizens after they are slaughtered: Shortly after the attack in Copenhagen, the Danish ambassador to Israel—appalled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for all of Europe’s Jews to make aliyahurged Denmark’s Jewish community to stay put, promising that his country will do “everything in our power so that the Jewish community in Denmark feels safe.”

Everything in the Danish government’s power, however, has not thus far included investing in actual security, which the country’s Jewish community has been requesting for years and which the government refuses to fund. Which, of course, is understandable: Denmark is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of virulently anti-Israeli organizations in Europe. After funneling approximately 30 million euros to the corrupt and tyrannical Palestinian Authority in the last five years alone, there are probably not enough kroner in the till to pay for securing the lives of 8,000 Danish Jews. Instead, just to be on the safe side, the Danish government convinced the country’s sole Jewish radio station to shut down for the first time in its history. Rather than have them emigrate to Israel, the Danish government would apparently prefer for the country’s Jews to shut down their institutions and go into the closet—or into actual closets, like Jews did during the war years to survive.

Given the inability of European governments to deal with the populations of radical Islamists they have nurtured, and who have been further radicalized by the civil war in Syria and the siren song of ISIS, it is irresponsible to pretend that things are going to get better for Europe’s Jews anytime soon. They are not. In fact they are quite visibly getting worse. When Netanyahu invites European Jews to move to Israel, he is not scoring cheap propaganda points, as Israeli leaders frequently did in the past. He is offering frightened people who wish to continue being Jewish a way out of a situation that has become untenable for them and their children. The European political leaders who criticize Bibi for offering Israeli passports to the terrorized Jewish populations they fail to protect should hold their tongues, open their history books, and realize that failing to protect Jews is a time-honored tradition with European governments. They should be ashamed.

But the victims aren’t really on anyone’s mind. In Europe, Jews are seen at best as a foreign element exercising undue influence—as France’s former foreign minister so poetically put it—and, at worst, as a target for derision or violence. If you are appalled by Netanyahu’s call for aliyah, the best choice—really, the only viable one—is to praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Just ask Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director general of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe and the European Jewish Association, the largest federation of Jewish organizations in Europe. In the wake of the Copenhagen shootings, Margolin called on European countries to change their gun laws and make it easier for Jews to arm themselves.

“The government is unable to protect its citizens,” Margolin said. “Jewish institutions are a main target, and we need them to monitor and fight against anti-Semitism, but governments do not understand the situation. The serious demand is that every Jewish institution is protected 24/seven. When I pick up my son at the synagogue I want to make sure that he is there and he is alive. It is a very basic request.”

European governments have no intention of meeting Margolin’s very basic request. They can’t even bear to name the killers. Shortly after the Copenhagen attack, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that while there were forces at play out to “hurt Denmark,” there was no war between Islam and the West. El-Hussein, the actual killer, would probably beg to differ: Writing on his Facebook page, the murderer had sworn allegiance to ISIS, a group whose spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, couldn’t be any more clear on his organization’s intentions toward the West: “We will conquer your Rome,” Adnani said in one of his charming dispatches, “break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”

Instead of heeding the killers, much of Europe’s left is busy scrutinizing the victims, who after all have a much longer and more lethal history of being despised outcasts in Europe than Muslims do. In Austria, to name but the latest example, a prosecutor found that praising Hitler and his work was a legitimate way to criticize Israel. In Malmo, Sweden, the mayor expressed the thoughts of many when he said that anti-Semitism was the Jews’ own fault. Neither of these men are yahoos. Both are elected officials. And both are representatives, albeit vocal ones, of the systemic animosity toward Jews that poisons European political and intellectual life these days, which is also nothing new.

The idea that European governments have any real stake in saving Jewish lives is a bad joke.

The idea that European governments have any real stake in saving Jewish lives is a bad joke; with the exception, maybe, of France’s Manuel Valls, even those politicians who do genuinely care about their Jewish constituents still wouldn’t dream of allocating the resources necessary to keep the Jews safe from the armed maniacs who are out to hunt them, which suggests that they see Jewish lives as being somehow different from their own. They’re missing another key lesson from history: Making nutty arguments about Jews while kowtowing to the most vicious of their persecutors has long been the canary in the coal mine that signals a society’s final departure from health and sanity.

As most European leaders are too busy declaring their absolute intolerance for any sort of prejudice to notice their own societies’ descent into moral chaos, let’s play a game: Imagine for a moment that the folks being beaten, whose houses of worship are being attacked, whose children are being murdered, aren’t European Jews. Imagine they’re African Americans living in the heartland of the Old South in 2015, and that the people uploading murder videos to YouTube were racial supremacists whose celebrations of these obscene acts were applauded by tens or even hundreds of millions of their fellow believers worldwide. Would anyone suggest that the people being targeted in this way were not actually being threatened, or that there was nothing to worry about, or that the people threatening them didn’t mean it, or that we need to sympathize with the confused motivations of the killers, or that they wouldn’t be quite so keen on killing if they had better jobs or nicer cars or flatter TVs, or that it was actually the victims’ own fault for not condemning the misdeeds of their own kind loudly enough, or that foreign politicians were exaggerating the epithets, and beatings, and tortures, and killings for political gain? No way.

Europe is a scary place for Jews these days because the European right and the European left are locked together in spiral of social and political madness that is being driven by the socio-political-theological madness of the jihadists. Here’s how it goes: Many Muslim immigrants and their ghettoized children challenge the state’s priorities and traditions, from questioning the ban on religious headdresses to decrying the dismal economic opportunities available to them; right-wing parties respond by beating the tribal drums, a downbeat that often sounds a lot like the one that rang wild in Europe not even 80 years ago; and left-leaning parties do their best to appear both tough and sensitive, which, sadly, is impossible. If the jihadists don’t win, whoever does win may well be worse.

European Jews with guns can make a difference, though. A well-armed Jewish population might make the jihadists—and their political enablers—think twice. More immediately, they are likely to save their own lives. Europe’s restrictive gun laws may pose a hurdle, but not a very onerous one: The weapons used in the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this year were likely purchased legally in Slovakia, where a wide variety of firearms, including machine guns, are available, deactivated, over the counter; converting them back to operational weapons requires very little skill or effort. The European Union being the porous body it is, such loopholes are not likely to close anytime soon and will continue to benefit the terrorists. To deny their designated victims the same protections is the height of folly.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.