July 23, 2014 | The Hill

What Are the Jews Supposed To Do?

Missiles over and into Israel. Violent demonstrations in London, Paris and Vienna. Violent demonstrators in Boston and on innumerable university campuses. Calls of “Death to the Jews.”

When the Jews respond, whether by assaulting Gazan missile sites and tunnels, or by throwing chairs and bottles against Parisian demonstrators trying to break into a synagogue, they are accused of excessive violence.

So what should they do?

The obvious answer, but one most Jewish organizations are very reluctant to embrace, is for Jews to fight back. That means that synagogues, federations, community centers and Jewish leaders must organize trained and armed people in the increasingly likely event of violent attacks. Moreover, they must take the fight — both political and physical — to the anti-Semites.

The Italian Jews have done this for decades. After World War II, anti-Semites — both neo-fascists and neo-Nazis — were active in Italy. Jewish institutions, including the big synagogue on the Tiber, were targeted, anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic demonstrations were not uncommon, and Jews were beaten up in the streets. The Jews, although a tiny component of the population (35-40,000 nationwide; 15,000 in Rome, the biggest community), did not expect the state could or would protect them effectively, and they fought back.

Rome was the epicenter of this largely unknown story. They built an underground organization that infiltrated the anti-Semitic groups. Armed with good intelligence, they were rarely taken by surprise, and often struck first, smashing offices, seizing documents and propaganda material, and fighting the Anti-Semites in the streets. The chief rabbi of Rome created a synagogue for young people that served both to educate and inspire young Jews, and also to recruit members for the defense organization.

It didn't happen quickly, but over time the anti-Semites were thwarted and even intimidated. A few weeks ago, I was in Rome and attended a mass rally on behalf of the three Israelis who had been kidnapped (and were killed, although that was not known) by Hamas. Between one and two thousand Romans attended, and Italian political leaders expressed solidarity. All speakers strongly attacked anti-Semitism and supported Israel. As the president of the Roman Jewish community said, “we are not afraid, we will not be intimidated.”

The French Jews have not done this yet. Their defense organizations, which do indeed exist, are generally considered rogue groups by the “mainstream” community leaders, who rely mostly on state security.

As do American Jews. It's a mistake to rely entirely on law enforcement officials to protect us; no matter how determined, they will not always get there in time. We need to follow the Italian example to avoid the French outcome. Everyone can see the rising anti-Semitism throughout the West, and the violent assaults we're seeing in France these days will likely be emulated by Jew-haters here.

The Italian Jews learned that anti-Semites aren't enthusiastic about attacking Jews who are not afraid, who fight effectively, and are prepared for it. Rabbis, synagogue leaders, and prominent Jewish figures need to be armed, and need to know how to use weapons. Our synagogue has a single security guard on Sabbath, and he will not be able to protect us against a mob seeking to destroy the temple and those inside.

Those bound and determined to avoid the use of guns should at least go through the hard work of learning self-defense. And all have to wage political war on the anti-Semites. All too many Jewish spokesmen complain about anti-Jewish incitement of the sort that has become standard fare in our schools; never mind complaining — denounce them, whether they are Islamist, left-wing extremists or old-fashioned Jew-haters.

There are many benefits to assertive and tough-minded actions against the enemies of the Jewish people, including religious enthusiasm. In Italy today, there is a steady rise in conversions to Judaism, and all manner of enthusiasm for Jewish festivals, even in areas where such things haven't been seen for over half a millennium.

It's not easy and it won't happen overnight, but it's urgent.