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If I Am Not for Me


Community Security Trust v Shtadlanut

Shtadlanut, has characterized Jewish diplomacy for thousands of years. Important individual Jews with connections would lobby monarchs, princes, and clergy, who might help alleviate their suffering. The equivalent of what we now call lobbying. Carried out privately, secretly, away from public glare. This was the norm in Jewish diplomacy, everywhere, until recently. And it still divides us. In the USA and Europe, up to and right through the Second World War and the Holocaust Jewish leaders bent over backwards not to make a fuss and appeal in private to the authorities. Many religious leaders, from Reform to ultra-Orthodoxy were against public demonstrations. They thought that appealing to reason, quiet diplomacy, would make a difference.   

 It is now clear that it has failed badly. Almost all communal organizations have dropped the ball and deluded themselves that Jews in the Diaspora were safe. Organizations like the so-called Anti-Defamation League have become more interested in protecting other rights rather than Jewish ones and cozying up to the wrong people. It has taken the October tsunami of hatred  and the anti-Jewish prejudices to wake them. Suddenly they are beginning to realize it is time to stand up  and be counted and fight for equality and protection. 

The old mentality of not making a fuss in public only began to change both in the USA and in Britain with the Campaigns for Russian Jewry. These were private initiatives. The dominant religious and communal organizations of all denominations were in favor of surreptitious action and were too slow to realize the need for change. Change had to come. And did primarily from outside the established communities.

In Britain it was the Community Security Trust, known as the CST, that has had the largest impact on the community at large. It was founded quietly in 1986  by Gerald Ronson and Lloyd Dorfman who believed that the Board of Deputies of British Jews was an ineffectual talking shop. Action was needed to combat antisemitism and protect the Jewish community.

Initially it was not treated seriously. Many Jews were offended and argued that it was up to  the police to protect Jews. They thought it would only encourage more antisemitism. The Jewish Chronicle at the time wrote that  the community did not need it. People scoffed at amateur security officials and volunteers equipped with walkie-talkies standing in front of synagogues and schools. Slowly it grew, attracted more support and government funding, by 1994 it had grown into the Community Security Trust of today.  

The CST has grown into a most important organization that also assists and supports individual members of the Jewish community who have been affected by antisemitism and deals with antisemitic incidents. It advises and represents the Jewish community on matters of terrorism and security and works with police, government, and international bodies. All this work is provided at no charge. It has recorded antisemitic incidents in the UK since 1984 and publishes an annual Antisemitic Incidents Report. It now monitors and attempts to combat extremist activity online.

Rabbis of different kinds may have had their influences, administrators may have done good work, but for putting your money where your mouth is and fighting for the safety of the community is concerned there has been no one in Britain to match  Gerald Ronson and the CST.

In the USA there is an equivalent, in a manner of speaking. It is called the Secure Community Network. But it has neither the recognition nor the influence of the CST. And just look at its recent public statement, “At this time, there are no known credible threats to the US Jewish community.”  Perhaps the USA should transfer Gerald Ronson from Britain or at least learn from him how to do it. 

            For years hatred of Jews has been simmering under our very noses. The Marxist left (apart from a brief moment when Russia thought Israel might be a Marxist ally) has always opposed Israel and voted as a block against Israel in the UN. The hard left everywhere support  extreme Islamism and glorifying Hamas whose values are completely contrary to theirs. Marxist ideology says you can ally with anyone who might help your cause. The end justifies the means until the end looks like silencing you. That was why Stalin allied with Hitler at first. The threats from neo-Nazis have always been there, but like the Ku Klux Klan a relatively insignificant if dangerous minority. So too Farrakhan and now Jay-Z. But the complexion of Western societies has been changing slowly but inexorably for years as more and more people,  weaned on violent hatred of Jews have changed the demographics and education of societies. This will only increase as more come as refugees from autocracies are required as essential workers to compensate for falling birthrates.

People will say we must educate, encourage integration, be tolerant of more primitive cultures, and teach the values of free enlightened societies. And we should. Indeed. This is what we were hoping for years ago. But this has not and will not happen. All nice theories of pluralism and cultures living together have so far failed. When faced with this changing scenario what can we do? We cannot turn clocks back even if we wanted to. We should of course appeal to the forces of law and order to protect us, but we have now seen whether on campuses or public spaces  this is not enough.

We cannot rely on the good will of others. As Israel has shown us, we have to protect and defend ourselves. Synagogues cross the USA have received death threats and abuse. “Quietly does it” is not the answer. Defense is.

The fast on Friday of the Tenth of Tevet records disasters thousands of years ago. We have every reason to add the current disasters too. Shabbat Shalom.

December 2023