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Few Embrace Call for Vigilantes to Guard Jewish Areas of New York

June 12, 2002
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An announcement by the little-known Jewish Defense Group that it will begin organizing patrols of armed residents of Jewish communities around New York has alarmed American Jewish leaders.

The announcement by Rabbi Yakove Lloyd, head of the Jewish Defense Group, came after reports that the planners of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center originally had intended to attack heavily Jewish neighborhoods around New York.

Jewish communities throughout Europe have seen an increase in anti-Semitic attacks since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000. Jewish communities in the United States have experienced fewer threats, but there is a heightened awareness of potential risk, especially since Sept. 11.

“We’re glad people are concerned about security, but we do not support vigilante or fringe groups, which this group seems to be,” said Joel Levy, the Anti-Defamation League’s Northeast director.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group for local Jewish communities relations councils, described her Brooklyn Heights area as “the most diverse neighborhood in New York City.”

“I don’t want to see armed camps in my neighborhood,” she said. “I’m sad people are literally taking to arms. I’m no more under siege than the rest of the country.”

The move to arm Jewish civilians came in response to the revelation on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” of the 1993 World Trade Center plotters’ intent to attack Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

“We will do nothing illegal,” Rabbi Lloyd told reporters, but concern over vigilantism prompted a response from New York City’s police department.

“Anyone attempting to patrol the streets armed with weapons will be arrested,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told The Associated Press.

Lloyd criticized the NYPD for not patrolling enough in heavily Jewish neighborhoods. Jewish Defense Group patrols, he argued, “will be a very effective deterrent against terrorism directed at American Jews and other targets.”

Lloyd could not be reached directly for comment.

His call found little support among Jewish groups and leaders.

“This is unequivocally not needed,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose district includes Borough Park in Brooklyn. Lloyd “is trying to take advantage of people’s insecurities after Sept. 11th.

“I don’t know where this guy comes from,” Hikind said, “but we don’t need outsiders in our community carrying around weapons.”

Both Rosenthal and Levy said their organizations’ efforts to bolster security measures, in cooperation with the NYPD, were far more reasonable.

The ADL addresses security measures in weekly meetings with Brooklyn police and local Jewish representatives, Levy said.

He encourages private security as a supplement to city police, but “carrying around shotguns and bats is certainly not what the mainstream groups are doing,” Levy said.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, said, “We take strong exception to the irresponsible notion that Jewish security in this country is enhanced by encouraging civilians” to go on patrol.

He continued, “While citizens are entitled to call as necessary on New York’s Finest, and to work with them to upgrade security in times of potential danger, they should not attempt to stand in police officers’ stead.”

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