Will Jewish extremism increase in the wake of the shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and other subsequent anti-Semitic acts?
That question emerged this week as the Jewish community struggled for the proper response to the attack on the Los Angeles-area JCC by Buford Furrow, a white supremacist with ties to neo-Nazi groups.
On Web sites and other media, Jewish militant groups are lashing out at “establishment” leaders for failing to anticipate the violence, and predicting that images of Jewish children being escorted by policemen armed with rifles will swell their ranks.
“These kids’ blood is on your conscience!” howls the outgoing message at the Los Angeles offices of the Jewish Defense League. “Once again Jews are asleep at the switch. Get armed guards. Stand against hate. Join now!”
“The phone has not stopped ringing,” said Irv Rubin, chairman of the JDL in Los Angeles, who sees the attack as a wakeup call for armed Jewish self-defense.
In New York, Mordechai Levy of the Jewish Defense Organization also claims a spike in inquiries since the attacks.
“We’ve gotten about 900 e-mails,” said Levy, whose Web site includes a purported warning of violence sent by neo-Nazis to the JDO days before the JCC shootings.
Kenneth Stern, a specialist in extremism for the American Jewish Committee, says the attacks may spur some interest in groups promoting armed struggle against anti-Semitism.
“Extremism breeds further extremism,” he said. “It’s a possibility that [militant groups] will gain some people who decide that picking up a gun is an answer.”
But mainstream organizations that monitor hate groups do not anticipate a growth in Jewish militancy.
“People are going to be more sensitive to an issue that may have been dismissed in the past,” said Mark Weitzman, director of the Task Force Against Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. “But I don’t see the impact as driving people to sign up in a militant group.”
And Weitzman rejects the JDL’s claim of a monopoly on vigilance. “We’ve been saying for years that there is a pattern of violence among the hard-core, relatively small group of committed extremists,” he said. “You don’t need a JDL to see that.”
Since the handful of Jewish militant defense groups are known to exaggerate their membership, there is no accurate means of tracking their numbers. Some Jewish militant groups, like Kahane Chai, another JDL splinter group, have been revitalized in recent years through the recruitment of Russian-speaking immigrants. Many of these immigrants suffered anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union but have little sense of Jewish identity.
But it is widely believed that Jewish militant groups are largely stagnant and underfunded, usually revolving around a single energetic personality like Levy or Rubin.
Weitzman says his center’s list of 2,500 hate groups on the Internet includes only “two or three” Jewish groups.
Rubin insists, however, that he and others are gearing up for a major confrontation with neo-Nazis. He believes the latest wave of violence is only the cusp of a greater threat as the new millennium approaches.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, cautions against adopting “the conspiracies of our enemies” and dismissed Jewish militants as marginal and static.
“If these incidents continue, my concern is beefing up law enforcement and our ability to protect ourselves,” he said. “I am not going to worry about whether they will add another 200 members to their ranks.”