15 Jan 2015

Call for more Jews to carry guns a ‘dangerous overreaction’

A rabbi’s proposal for European Jews to be able to carry guns in the wake of the Paris terror attacks is “divisive and dangerous”, leading Jewish figures tell Channel 4 News.

Picture: Armed soldiers patrol outside a school in the Jewish quarter of the Marais district of Paris.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association (EJA), has called on the European governments to allow proprietors of synagogues, kosher shops and Jewish property to be allowed to train and carry guns in a bid to counter fears of rising anti-Semitism.

“Jewish people in Europe don’t feel secure. There is too much fear and threat,” he told the BBC on Wednesday. “We ask the EU government to make it much easier for Jews who want to carry guns to be able to do so.”

He added: “We have to be in a situation where we know that each Jewish institution is protected by a few people who carry guns and will be able to protect institutions in wake of a terrorist attack.”

But leading figures in Britain have condemned the suggestions which come against a backdrop of growing concerns about anti-Semitism in UK and France following last week’s attacks in Paris.

Danny Rich, a senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism, told Channel 4 News that the measure was a “dangerous overreaction” that risked compounding social division.

“Terrorists rely on stoking up fears and want nothing more than a society in which we are prone to shooting each other,” he said. “Now, more than ever is a time to, trust in the decency of the British public and the capabilities of the police and security services. This is not the time to be retreating into ourselves or armed strongholds.”

Getting such legislation through parliament in the UK would be “practically impossible”, Westminster sources told Channel 4 News. Nonetheless the debate over the proposal coincides with wider questions of the Jewish response amid increased anxiety after the murder of four people by Amedy Coulibaly in a kosher grocery store in Paris last week.

Home threat

Police and community groups have strengthened security at Jewish locations in Britain in recent days, while the British based Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Jewish hate crime, said it was working closer and more frequently alongside police to guard Jewish sites.

Stephen Pollard, the editor of Jewish Chronicle newspaper, said the idea of armed response was “utterly ludicrous”. “I simply cannot conceive of a single person that would concur with this however great or perceived the threat,” he told Channel 4 News.

“Deploying armed police at synagogues has been seen in recent weeks and is the right public response. But the idea of arming people is utterly ludicrous.”

Meanwhile a survey by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) of more than 2,200 British Jews earlier this week found that more than half feel they have witnessed more anti-Semitism in the past two years than ever before.

Read more: Anti-semitism makes Jews 'question their future in UK'

In July, when Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza was at its height, London saw the highest-ever level of hate crime, of which more than nine-tenths was aimed at Jews.

A spokeswoman for the London-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians said Rabbi Margolin’s proposal would “only add to the climate of fear and panic and could actually be dangerous”.

“This could discourage many Jews from using these institutions and would have a very negative effect on the Jewish community,” she told Channel 4 News.

“We suggest that, instead of adopting Rabbi Margolin’s recommendation, the leaders of European Jewish organisations condemn oppressive Israeli actions such as last summer’s military actions, instead of supporting them.”