European Jewish community leaders slam rabbi’s call to carry guns

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Leaders of 11 Jewish communities in Europe lambasted the director of a Brussels-based lobby group who after the Paris attacks called for some Jews to carry guns.

Thursday’s statement by European Jewish leaders was directed against Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who heads the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. Among the statement’s cosignatories are Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Ruben Vis, director of the Jewish Communities of the Netherlands.

“Mr. Margolin lacks any expertise or authority to speak on these critical issues on behalf of the Jews of Europe, and therefore lacks all the basic components for Jewish community responsibility,” the statement said.

Joint statements from Jewish leaders criticizing other Jewish groups are rare within European Jewry.

Margolin in a Jan. 13 letter to interior ministers of European Union member states asked that gun licensing laws be “reviewed with immediate effect to allow designated people in the Jewish communities and institutions to own weapons for the essential protection of their communities.”

The Israeli-born Margolin, who lives in Brussels and describes himself as a Chabad rabbi, told JTA that the call was in reaction to the slaying of four Jews in a kosher supermarket near Paris on Jan. 9, and that arming five to 10 people from each community could help deter assailants. On Jan. 19, the CCOJB umbrella group of French-speaking Belgian Jews distanced itself from his call, saying in a statement that it “can only be explained by ignorance and panic.”

The two organizations directed by Margolin have a tense relationship with some European Jewish lobbies and umbrella groups.

In their statement, the community leaders called Margolin’s EJA “an association of irrelevant and unrepresentative self-created groups [that] does not in any way convey upon him a role as a spokesman or representative of our communities.”

But Margolin said his group is in regular contact with leaders of European states and the European Commission and has received “hundreds of messages of support” from community leaders and rabbis.

Margolin told JTA that he regretted the authors’ decision to “promote divisiveness instead of working for the Jewish people.” He said the statement was the result of competition and that “the situation in Europe is too serious for us to find the time and resources for these so-called ‘Jewish wars.’”