OPINION: We don’t need or want armed guards outside our shuls

OPINION: We don’t need or want armed guards outside our shuls

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

An orthodox Jew and a boy pass two police officers in Antwerp, Belgium,   2014.  (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
An orthodox Jew and a boy pass two police officers in Antwerp, Belgium, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

by Jack Mendel, Online Editor 

Jack Mendel
Jack Mendel

Last week I received a phone call from Moses Hoffman who had started a petition calling for armed guards outside synagogues.

They cited “numerous fatal terror attacks” in European cities, to which “the only feasible solution is to provide armed security for Jewish public places.” 

Around 5,000 people have so far signed this petition, which is poorly worded, not even addressed to a specific government department, nor calling for it for a specific area. 

If this petition was necessary, it would need to be far more sophisticated, and widely consulted. 

He compared the security situation in the UK with that of continental Europe, in a gross exaggeration of the threat we face.

The petition, posted on the government's official site, has over 5,000 signatures now
The petition, posted on the government’s official site, has over 5,000 signatures now

So on that basis, the pretense of the argument was poor. It was also dangerous, because it asks for our community to receive the highest level of protection, when we don’t need it. What happens if something major, god forbid, actually did ever happen? We’d be maxed-out.

It implies we feel under a great deal of threat, and I don’t think most people feel that is the case. Because, after getting off the phone, although unable to attend, I saw the brilliance of Chanukah in the Square, from the videos, pictures and reports all over the web.

An estimated 7,000 people in Trafalgar Square sang, ate doughnuts, listened to speeches and lit a public menorah. 

The event was secured by the police and the CST, who have excellent relationship; with the current and prospective mayors in attendance.

Five thousand signatures from behind a screen does not even register on the radar compared to 7,000 people showing they are not scared, coming out and celebrating their Judaism. 

Are there threats?

Yes of course.

Nobody is saying there aren’t.

But there are also threats to my life if I cross the road, or if when get on the train in the morning, or a plane when I go on holiday. 

I’m sure, every person that attended Chanukah in the Square, considered the risks, and it didn’t stop them.

The answer is not to apply the most extreme measure, every time, or let your life grind to a halt.

Of course it’s easier said than done, but there must be a high threshold to consider applying something so extreme as armed protection. 

There are numerous reasons why.

Firstly, the nature of our community’s security means it requires discretion. It’s not beneficial to have an open discussion about it. By it’s very nature, we don’t want our adversaries knowing how we are preventing them from harming us.

More importantly, armed security should be an absolute last resort, because it’s unreasonable and unsustainable in a wider sense.

Unreasonable, because not every shul needs it, or wants it.

Unsustainable, because it’s expensive and requires more personnel (neither of which the petition addresses) – especially if other faith communities also need it; which judging by the spike in hate crime against Muslims in particular, recently, would be the case.

If we ever needed this measure, it would not be done by a petition and discussed in the open. Our communal and national leaders would do it after careful consideration, and it would be a temporary and targeted approach. Protecting specific communities from specific threats at specific times.

In France, and in other parts of continental Europe, there is a more permanent presence of armed protection, but that is in line with the threat. It’s not the same as in the UK. 

We need some perspective. We aren’t under attack, and we neither want or need to discuss armed protection at our shuls at the moment.

Armed guards outside our synagogues would be an unnecessary and undesirable move, sending the wrong message to those inside and outside our community.

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