Jews, the Second Amendment and Anti-Semitism

By Dennis King

FEB. 26, 2010--Maybe someone in the Jewish community can explain to me the logic of ADL national director Abe Foxman's opposition to gun ownership, because I don't understand it. Every other ethnic group in America owns guns without feeling guilty about it. None of these ethnic groups have any particular objection to Jews owning guns. The National Rifle Association WELCOMES Jewish gun ownership. Yet Foxman seems to think that Jews should go along with a double standard (no guns for Jews!) that emanates not from anti-Semites but from the heads of certain liberal Jewish leaders.

The view of these Jewish leaders is that Jews should simply rely on the police to protect them--by calling 911. They seem to have blocked out of their minds the fact that this is essentially what the Jews of Germany did in the 1920s and early 1930s (and when Jabotinsky suggested aggressive armed self-defense in Europe and pre-Israel, he was called a "fascist" by elements in the Jewish establishment).

Ze'ev Jabotinsky: he was proven right again and again (six million times) about the need for Jewish armed self-defense.

What makes Foxman's anti-gun position so outrageous, apart from its failure to draw on the lessons of history, is that Foxman himself is known to travel with armed bodyguards. And the same holds true for New York Mayor Michael (Mr. Gun Control) Bloomberg--who is always surrounded by a police security detail and has cops guarding his private mansion in the city's safest neighborhood at all times. What hypocrites!

Most people in the Jewish community (and in other communities) can't afford bodyguards and don't have access to round-the-clock police protection. So what is wrong with them buying a handgun as a substitute, however inadequate, for the type of protection that Foxman and Bloomberg have? Why has Bloomberg decreased the allowable number of carry permits in New York, which was already at a pathetically low level?

As to the national campaign for gun control by Bloomberg and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, if these two get their way, all ethnic groups in the United States, not just Jews, will be affected. But I suspect that Bloomberg and Schumer both know that Congress is unlikely to ever pass really strict gun-control legislation. I think the real target of these two appeasement champions (and especially of Bloomberg) is their fellow Jews: they want to discourage people in the Jewish community from even thinking about owning guns. They want the Jews in America to "perform" (a verb Bloomberg knows well) the role of non-aggressive and self-abasing folks (except in the traditional Jewish world of ideas and debate), because this fits with Bloomberg's and Schumer's own insecurities. Why do you think Bloomberg feels so comfortable with Fred Newman's "Jews for Farrakhan" political cult? He's like them on some level.

In part the lack of enthusiasm for guns in the American Jewish community simply reflects the fact that the majority of Jews grew up, and live today, in and around metropolitan areas where guns are not a big thing in general (except among street criminals, who mostly use them on each other). However, Jews who grew up in rural areas, small towns or close-to-nature heartland cities are often comfortable with guns. Conversely, non-Jews such as myself who grew up where legal gun ownership was common and who learned to shoot at an early age, will, if they move to New York, drop away from the gun culture of their early years simply because it is not relevant to a life separated from the great outdoors (and also because New York regulations make gun ownership onerous).

However, there is a widespread hostility to Second Amendment rights within the liberal wing of the Jewish establishment. I am speaking here of the mindset of (among others) Bloomberg, Schumer, certain journalists and Hollywood celebrities, and the members of the ADL National Commission who egg on Foxman to support gun control in exchange for their donations. (I also note that most of the neocons have shown little enthusiasm for opposing the liberals on this particular issue.)

It's possible there's a cultural meme at work--a meme that may reflect, indirectly and through a complicated process of cultural evolution, the plight of Jews in the Middle Ages, when communal leaders in the ghettos would have been extremely worried that young Jews might break the rules imposed by Christian or Muslim princes, obtain swords and other weapons, and end up triggering a pogrom. Such worries would have been rational at the time, but not today in the United States of America, where there aren't and never have been any ghettos or any special laws prohibiting Jews from defending themselves.

Jews in Israel have pretty much rejected this no-weapons-for-Jews double standard (born out of medieval anti-Semitism and implicitly anti-Semitic in its logic), and have become a proud people who defend themselves efficiently and relentlessly. They had to change if they were to survive in a very dangerous neighborhood. But Jews in the diaspora cling to cultural attitudes and survival strategies that may have made sense 500 years ago but are just plain wrong today (and were wrong in a catastrophic way in the 1920s and 1930s). The Jewish community needs leaders who lead--who help the Jews of America, whether Orthodox, Reform or secular, move away from passivity, denial and appeasement. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is stuck with the likes of ADL national director Foxman, a man who seems to embody outmoded and dysfunctional traits in their most extreme form.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a bulwark for groups that are targeted by discrimination and hate, or have reason to fear a resurgence of such problems in the future. True, the haters can themselves obtain firearms (and will do so illegally even if the gun control movement somehow manages to win big). But there are far more Jews and other opponents of bigotry than there are haters in today's America. And the haters have often backed down when faced by determined opposition, even when that opposition was armed only with picket signs and a few baseball bats.

Let's go back to the events leading up to the Holocaust, even though Foxman believes it's "insensitive" to discuss this topic in the same breath with support for the Second Amendment. In the early and middle 1920s, there were more Jewish young men than Nazi young men in Germany. There were many young Jews, including officers, who had fought in World War One and were capable of leading the less experienced in doing what needed to be done. The Nazis were obtaining firearms--does anyone think the Jews could not have obtained more and better firearms than the street Nazis, if they had set their mind to it? The Jews had it in their power to destroy the Nazis in the streets and then go crush them in their offices.

It could have been done, if the will had been present in the Jewish community. And how would the German people of the Weimar years have reacted? It might not have made them love the Jews, but it would have made them respect the Jews, which would have been a lot more useful. Perhaps a militarist regime would subsequently have come to power in Germany, but it would have been difficult for such a regime to promote an extreme variety of anti-Semitism under the circumstances.

I know that what-if scenarios always rest on shaky grounds--and that Monday morning quarterbacking often involves knowing something the real quarterback couldn't possibly have known--but this scenario seems to me to carry a certain logic that is lacking in the modern version of the no-guns-for-Jews double standard.

Historically the idea of militant self-defense by Jews in the United States has been linked to worries regarding the growth of neo-Nazis, the Klan and other hate groups. Even though these groups do not have millions of followers marching in the streets, no one should try to deny their infiltration of and influence within the Tea Party movement. I am concerned over how neoconservatives such as Jonah Goldberg not only try to shrug off the threat posed by such groups but also depict efforts to warn the public about their activities as some kind of leftist plot to divert attention from the overwhelming danger represented by the anti-Israel left and domestic Muslim extremism.

Let me be clear: The neocon movement's warnings about what is happening within today's left need to be taken seriously. The anti-Semitic tendencies within the left should be vigorously opposed and indeed there are people on the left as well as on the right who are doing so. And the dangers of domestic Muslim terrorism represent a powerful argument for why the Jewish community should be encouraging within its ranks a robust culture of gun ownership, gun training, and aggressive political protest (without which gun ownership is of limited value) against manifestations of anti-Semitic hate regardless of its political or religious origins.

The neocons' foolish denial of any threat from rightwing hate groups dates back to the 1980s when they debased themselves before the Christian Right (rather than making an alliance based on mutual self-respect) and somehow convinced themselves that working with their new pro-Israel Christian allies necessitated ignoring or downplaying the threat of hate groups (and keeping quiet about the influence of such elements on their new allies).

Today, the idea that domestic non-Muslim anti-Semitism is almost entirely a leftwing phenomenon is equally opportunistic, representing yet another neocon effort to nudge Jews away from the Democrats and into the Republican Party. The neocons who promote this idea don't know much about the violence-and-hate-prone ultraright and don't really want to know much. But even if the neocons were partly correct and the threat from the far right was somewhat less than the people who monitor it (mostly people from the liberal-left) believe it to be, a key question would still need answering: why, in spite of decades of aggressive organizing, have the hate groups not made more headway (at least, more headway above the radar screen)?

One answer would have to be that, whenever these elements have gone into the streets to test the waters, they have tended to face counteraction in those same streets as well as vocal political protest. If they are still comparatively weak, it's the result to a significant extent of such opposition as was manifested at Skokie--and elsewhere during the years since then. Just think how much stronger the hate groups would be today if the Jewish community had listened to the "Anti-Demonstration League" and the ACLU at the time of Skokie. And consider what the results could have been if Jewish and other groups in Louisiana had not mobilized against David Duke in the early 1990s (although this was not a situation calling for armed self-defense), while Foxman remained aloof, claiming that his hands were tied by the ADL's 501(c)(3) status. (I could cite many other political--and occasionally physical--battles against hate groups across the nation where the ADL and Foxman were always on the third side--the do-nothing side.)

The bottom line is this: If Jews own guns and know how to use them properly (as Southern Baptists do, and indeed as many Jews living in the South or in the heartland do) and let the public know through synagogue patrols and aggressive but legal street confrontations that they won't be anyone's patsy, then their safety level goes way, way up and the morale of the haters--whether in the Arab community, among skinheads and Militia types, or elsewhere--goes way, way down. Why is this so hard to understand?


Further comment:

The ADL's Abe Foxman and the Second Amendment

Letter by Dennis King to the New York Post (never published; posted on the web in 2005)

Your Page Six column (May 7) describes a gun lobby flier that makes the common sense point that lack of civilian gun ownership--and the skill and will to use privately owned guns for self-defense--has in the past and can in the future lead to the slaughter of countless unarmed innocents by evil regimes such as the Nazis. The flier was illustrated with pictures of Jews in the Ukraine waiting to be slaughtered by the Germans.

ADL director Abe Foxman calls this flier “sick,” “absurd” and “insensitive.” But Foxman was once a member of the youth movement founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who traveled through Europe during the era of the rise of fascism, urging the Jews to arm themselves. Does Foxman now think that Jabotinsky’s message was sick and absurd?

An earlier advocate of Jewish self-defense was U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who, in his Autobiography (1913), advised the Jews of Eastern Europe to obtain firearms and fight back against the pogromist bullies. I guess Foxman, if he had been around at the time, would have branded Roosevelt’s advice as “insensitive” to the suffering of pogrom victims.


Read a much fuller treatment of these issues at the website of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.