BRUSSELS − On Friday, March 16, as I do every weekday morning, I took my daughter to school. On entering the building, through the bulletproof entrance and past the private, armed security guards, I noticed two police officers, one of them carrying a large machine gun. That’s what it looks like, sending your kids to Jewish school these days in Europe.
I told myself that this was just too much, and called the chairman of the school’s board. I told him angrily that I didn’t understand why children needed to be welcomed with weapons of war. Three days later, the massacre in Toulouse left me feeling sorry I’d spoken so quickly. If only there had been armed police officers at the Ozar Hatorah school.
This horrific event reminded us that Europe is not really at peace. Its minorities remain under threat, and its Jewish communities more than others. Radical Islam has struck, and is liable to do so again. There are dozens of Mohammed Merahs in France, hundreds throughout Europe − people who have trained in Afghanistan or Pakistan and are desperate to import jihad to our cities. Jews are a prime target.
Europe’s Jewish communities have become the overseas front line of the Jewish state. What happened yesterday in France could happen tomorrow anywhere in Europe. But are these communities prepared for the day after an attack takes place?
Securing our communities is not about adding more machine guns at the entrances to our schools and institutions, but about “resilience,” that is, the capacity of a given Jewish community to experience a terrible crisis like this one and come out of it strengthened in the long term. This type of disaster can only be surmounted by having, beyond the security apparatus, a well-prepared, three-level, crisis-management structure. At the collective level, it is of utmost importance to simulate emergency scenarios.
The Jewish community has to be ready to offer psychological assistance to its members and communicate via one voice and one message with the authorities and the media. This message ought to be simple and forceful: “We, the Jews of Europe, are citizens of our country; an assault against us is tantamount to an assault against the nation as a whole and must be treated as such. It is not natural that we have to protect our schools, community centers and institutions.
nti-Semitism, after all, is not a Jewish problem, but the problem of the whole body politic. Obviously, it is also the problem of the Muslim community, which must fight the extremist elements in its midst and educate its members in a spirit of tolerance and openness to the other. We Jews of Europe are eager to have an ongoing dialogue with other communities of faith, if only to fight side by side any manifestation of ethnic or religious hatred.”
At the national level, Jewish leaders should make sure that all appropriate measures are taken by their national governments to protect their people, and maintain proper communication channels with the authorities and the media. It is not acceptable that Jewish communities should need to finance their own security, sometimes putting them at risk of bankruptcy, as happened in Istanbul in the aftermath of the 2003 terror attack.
The right attitude is that assumed by the French authorities, which as early as 2005 acknowledged a rise in anti-Semitism, and over the next five years invested more than 3 million euros in upgrading security at Jewish communal buildings throughout France. Since 2010, an additional 300,000 euros per year has been transferred by the state to the FSJU, the foundation for Jewish social work. Then there is the political message, unambiguous, along the lines of the one President Nicolas Sarkozy of France gave in Toulouse: “This murder doesn’t concern only the Jewish community: The whole national community is devastated and stands alongside you.”
The third level concerns the role of Israel. One practical aspect of the necessary dialogue between it and the Diaspora should be Israel’s sharing with us its unfortunately vast experience in dealing with post-terror attack situations.
As of today, only the Paris, London and Vienna Jewish communities have invested time and financial resources in building a convincing preparedness system. Other communities remain extremely vulnerable to what is now a clear and present danger.
To be sure, it is highly unpleasant that in Western democracies Jewish citizens must live under threat and must promote their cultural identity under the protection of the police. But that’s how it is, and the situation is unlikely to improve much soon. Better that we understand the world where we live, enjoy the good that it has to offer, and prepare for the worst.
Claude Kandiyoti is a Brussels-based entrepreneur, a member of the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps and a former publisher of the Belgian Jewish monthly Contact J.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now