On the 26th of Nov. 2008 the world recoiled in horror as the infamous Mumbai terror attacks unfolded. Three days later, unthinkable death and devastation remained. For the Jewish community the brutal murder of Chabad emissaries Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg highlighted the vulnerability of many that stand at the forefront of community work in remote corners of the globe.
Now, over the past few weeks, it has emerged that two other Chabad centers had been identified as targets in thwarted terror attacks.
On Jan. 13th, Thai authorities announced that they had arrested a Lebanese citizen on suspicion of planning a terror attack in Bangkok. The New York Times reported that "Western intelligence agencies know that Hezbollah operatives have scouted El Al offices and counters in Thailand, as well as the Chabad House in Bangkok." Security analysis blog Debkafile went a step further claiming that "It was to have followed the same lines as al Qaeda's 2008 assault on the Mumbai Chabad center which killed 8 Israelis and Jews -- only more ambitious."
On Monday, Haaretz reported that in Bak, Azerbaijan, "The Azeri ministry said it had arrested a cell that planned to 'kill public activists' ... it became apparent that the intended victims were two Israeli Chabad emissaries, a rabbi and a teacher employed by the 'Chabad Or Avner' Jewish school in Baku."
Israeli Interior minister Eli Yishai was right when he explained to Israeli security chiefs that "Chabad Houses in many countries are "the soft underbelly" of attacks because of the high volume of Israeli tourists and backpackers." Additionally, Chabad houses and rabbis are highly visible and symbolic targets for would be terror planners.
It is admirable and a source of great inspiration that the 'Rebbe's Army' is by no means deterred by the inherent daily risks that they are undertaking for themselves and their families, standing at the forefront of Jewish communal activity wherever Jewish life is to be found. But what can be done to minimize the risk that many Chabad rabbis face?
Public displays of Jewish pride are an integral component of the Chabad modus operandi, precluding the possibility of lowering the profile of their activities. Whatever the risks, you won't find a Chabad center buried within a building complex -- like a synagogue I visited in The Hague, Holland a few years back -- that wouldn't display so much as a small Star of David to mark its presence.
Of course investing in the hiring of security services and personnel is an option, but the expenses can become quite significant. The most effective security setup that I have seen, is in the South African Jewish community which established the Community Active Patrol (CAP) in 2006, an organization that in effect serves as a private Jewish army. Ex-military personnel armed to the teeth, and dressed from head to toe in black, patrol communal areas in imposing vehicles, investigating any suspicious activity. Their budget in 2011 was over 4 million rand, about half a million U.S. dollars. Rabbi Wilhelm of Bangkok told Mishpacha magazine that "We have security 24 hours a day -- at our expense, and at the cost of between 60 and 80 thousand dollars a year." Unfortunately, for many Chabad houses that are struggling to pay their bills for basic necessities like rent and electricity, the cost may be prohibitive.
A far cheaper and very effective strategy would be for the various Chabad emissary support groups to encourage the purchase of personal firearms for each rabbi and facilitate their weapons proficiency training. As recorded in Chabad literature they would be following in the footsteps of the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Schneerson, who, when informed of a threat from 'gangsters' that intended to attack him, made sure to carry a pistol. Perhaps an appropriate next project for the billionaire patron of the 'shluchim Gennady Bogolubov would be to establish a 'gun fund.'
Of course, this would only apply in countries where gun ownership is legal. According to gunpolicy.org this includes Thailand, India and Azerbaijan under the following terms, "Applicants for a gun owner's license are required to prove genuine reason to possess a firearm, for example, hunting, sports shooting, collection, and self-defense."
Additionally, if a Chabad gun policy were to be established and widely publicized, it would serve as an effective deterrent to would be attackers, who would likely rather seek the path of least resistance.
After all, wouldn't one expect 'the men in black' to be strapped?