The images coming out of France since the Charli Hebdo massacre are the ones I find by far and away the most repellent. Whereas it’s images of terrorists, guns and killing that make the headlines, for me the real crime is in the soldiers standing in front of Jewish schools and places of worship. This is the anti-Semite’s victory. It doesn’t matter whether Jews stay or whether they go, the terrorists won something when they forced politicians to relate to Jews as “different” from everyone else and that this difference necessitates armed guards.
But let’s not pretend this is a new phenomenon, when I went to a Jewish school at the age of 16 (20 years ago) we had around the clock security to protect us from the local kids who would attack students as they were walking into and out of school each day. A friend of mine had his exam interrupted by a brick flying through the school window. Thrown by someone who thought attacking Jews was good sport. For as long as I can remember there were security guards outside my synagogue in London and on the High Holy Days an intensive security operation was mounted that included police moving from shul to shul.
I am appalled. What are we telling our Jewish children in France, in Germany and in the UK when we put guards in front of the buildings they go to every day?
We’re telling them that they’re not safe from the very people they live with, that their compatriots hate them so much the government itself admits it has to place soldiers to protect them. How will those children ever really feel safe? How will they feel comfortable? How will they feel like equal citizens of a country knowing how much danger they are in from their fellow citizens? A small, even tiny minority it may be, yet it is enough to force a whole community to live in fear of attack.
For me though the most insidious part of growing up around all of this security was the message the community gives young Jews growing up. The implicit assertion that we Jews are afraid of the world beyond the security, that we can’t stand up for ourselves. This is the Jewish catch 22. If we don’t have security we are being irresponsible and are likely to suffer harm as a result, if we do have security we are are saying we are too afraid to fight. We are admitting that society is too dangerous for us. We are voluntarily returning to the walls of the ghetto by erecting an armed wall between ourselves and the very people we live with each and every day.
The message such armed guards send to the very Jews they’re protecting is that the Jews are weak, that the Jews can’t look after themselves, that the Jews need non Jews sent by the state to protect us. And it’s true. The divorce that occurs between the Jewish community and the rest of society by the necessity for such security is a powerful victory for anti-Semitism. For those who wish to live quietly in the country and culture they were born into the security is a reminder that this simply isn’t possible.
I wonder how the next generation of Jewry is expected to grow up with pride in themselves and their people when they have know they are only safe because an umbrella of protection has been provided to them by a government who recognises it has failed to educate its citizens well enough to celebrate the Jews, or at least treat them like normal human beings.