US Jewish community looks to defend itself as attacks rise

Rabbi Raziel Cohen, aka “Tactical Rabbi,” shoots a Glock 9mm pistol during a demonstration at the Angeles Shooting Ranges in Pacoima, California on May 20, 2019. (AFP/Agustin Paullier)
Updated 09 June 2019

US Jewish community looks to defend itself as attacks rise

  • The training comes six months after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 people dead
  • Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States remained at near-record high levels in 2018

LOS ANGELES: Armed guards, safety assessments and now even a “Tactical Rabbi” to train volunteers on the use of weapons — such is the reality today at synagogues in the United States facing mounting anti-Semitic attacks.
It is at a shooting range in the hills overlooking Los Angeles that a team of AFP reporters met recently with Raziel Cohen, dubbed the “Tactical Rabbi,” who was sporting a 9mm pistol on his hip and carrying a semi-automatic rifle over his shoulder.
Cohen was trying to determine how well books can stop bullets. The idea is to transform a library at a synagogue or Jewish school into a shelter in the event of an active shooter situation.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between the time that the shooting begins and law enforcement arrives,” he told AFP.
“The expression that goes on is that we carry guns because we can’t carry police officers, which is not just a joke,” added Cohen. “The reality is that there can’t be police everywhere all the time.”
Cohen, who has been passionate about guns since his youth, is a security expert and certified shooting instructor who has taken part in counter-terrorism courses given by retired and elite active-duty military personnel.
Born into a religious family, Cohen is also a rabbi for the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Los Angeles. Chabad is a sect of Hasidic Judaism, and Los Angeles is second only to Brooklyn, New York in its number of Chabad congregations.
Cohen said his expertise in security took on more meaning after the April 27 shooting at the Chabad Poway Synagogue near San Diego that left one dead and three wounded.
It came six months after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 people dead — the worst attack against Jewish people in the modern history of the United States.
“One of the Ten Commandments that’s taught very incorrectly is ‘Thou shall not kill’,” Cohen said. “It’s not ‘Thou shall not kill,’ it’s ‘Thou shall not murder.’
“In fact, in the Bible it says that you have the obligation to protect yourself.”
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States remained at near-record high levels in 2018, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which recorded 1,879 incidents, the third-highest level since the 1970s.
2017 had marked an unprecedented rise in such incidents, with 1,986 cases of harassment, vandalism or anti-Semitic attacks recorded, the organization said.
Cohen said given the uptick, it was the duty of the Jewish community to learn to fend for itself.
But not everyone agrees with Cohen’s reasoning.
Ivan Wolkind, chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and founder of the federation’s security program, said some 500 groups have joined the program, exchanging information and security tips with police or the FBI.
Wolkind, a reserve officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, said while he wholeheartedly believes in prevention, he is not convinced that arming worshippers is the answer.
“I can’t make a judgment as to whether or not people should have weapons in their place of worship but what I can say is to have people carrying weapons without a huge amount of training... is potentially very very dangerous,” he told AFP.
He said his program focuses on prevention rather than encouraging worshippers to arm themselves.
“So we put 98 percent of our energy into what we call left of bang,” he said. “So if you think of a timeline where there is pre-incident — everything that happens before an incident — and then the bang is what happens and then there’s everything to the right.
“We put 98 percent of our energy into left of bang — recognizing, preventing and mitigating the effects of an attack.”
Wolkind said he fears that people who undergo weapons training may feel overconfident and ignore warning signs leading up to a shooting.
“They may stop looking for some of the pre-incident indicators that I feel are so important,” he said.
He said his security program has been so successful that churches, mosques and even the Church of Scientology have reached out for advice.
“We’ve got a lot of experience,” he said. “And we are absolutely open to sharing that with anyone and everyone as other people try to do the same thing in their communities.”


US lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump

Updated 44 min 56 sec ago

US lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump

  • Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him
  • If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON: Democrats in the US House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching President Donald Trump as a key House committee began debating formal articles of impeachment that are expected to be brought to the House floor next week.
The House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider the two articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive (branch) — and the president becomes a dictator,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, said in opening remarks.
But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, accused Democrats of being predisposed toward impeachment and argued that the evidence did not support it.
“You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Collins said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax. But Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said his misconduct was in plain sight.
“The president was the first and best witness in this case. The president admitted to his wrongdoing and corrupt intent on national television,” Jayapal said. “The president is the smoking gun.”
Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him, while Republicans railed against what they see as a partisan and unjust inquiry.
“President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Hank Johnson. “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical,” referring to the era of racial segregation.
Republican Jim Jordan contended the process was being driven by animus toward Trump and his allies.
“They don’t like us — that’s what this is about,” Jordan said. “They don’t like the president’s supporters, and they dislike us so much they’re willing to weaponize the government.”
The committee is expected to approve the charges sometime on Thursday. The full Democratic-led House is likely to follow suit next week, making Trump the third president in US history to be impeached.
Following the House vote, charges will go to the Senate for a trial. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.

QUICK TRIAL?
On Wednesday, the president and senior Republicans appeared to be coalescing around the idea of a shorter proceeding in that chamber.
After initially saying he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy trial in the Senate, Trump seemed to be leaning toward a streamlined affair that would allow him to move quickly past the threat to his presidency, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.
Trump’s new thinking could remove a potential source of friction with Senate Republicans, who appeared to balk at the idea of a long trial with witnesses.
But it was not yet clear whether Trump was ready to abandon his demand for witnesses, such as Biden, which would trigger demands from Democrats for high-profile Trump administration witnesses.
“I think as an American the best thing we can do is deep-six this thing,” a staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, told reporters on Wednesday.
Asked why he thought Republican senators were now talking about a short trial, possibly with no witnesses, Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said: “I think the answer is obvious. They want to move on because obviously they think more attention paid to this is not in their best interest in re-election.”
Democrats say Trump endangered the US Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in next year’s election.
The articles of impeachment unveiled on Tuesday do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of Trump’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers from more conservative districts had argued the focus should stay on Ukraine.
Many Democrats in those swing districts remain unsure how they will vote on impeachment, although with a 36-seat lead over Republicans in the House, passage is expected.
Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, where Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum to drive the president from office.
If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
McConnell, a close Trump ally, says no decision has been made over how to conduct the trial. Approving the rules will require agreement by the majority of the Senate’s 100 members