Saturday, January 29, 2022

Safety Through Solidarity (Or Else)

In the wake of the Colleyville synagogue hostage crisis, two things became clear about the congregation's approach to its safety and standing in the broader community. One was that the Rabbi had deep pre-existing relations with the local police and groups like the ADL, whose support and training he credited for ensuring that all the hostages emerged alive. The second was that the Rabbi had been intricately connected to interfaith and community-building initiatives, and was widely praised for his work in that domain. The former might be thought of as the "traditional" approach to Jewish security; the latter related to what is sometimes called "safety through solidarity."

In the case of Colleyville, these two approaches worked in tandem with one another, and to that extent they represent a success story (insofar as we can call anything about Colleyville a "success"). A Jewish life that is self-consciously isolated from our neighbors and their concerns, that solely concentrates on building walls and fortresses and maintaining access to state power and SWAT teams, will be something stilted and shallow. At the same time, "safety through solidarity" simply does not have anything to offer to provide "safety" as against a Colleyville style incident, at least in the short- to mid-term. Both approaches can do certain things but cannot do others. So they compliment one another. There can of course be squabbles about what issue belongs on what turf -- we can, for example, disagree on whether particular antisemitic incidents are best addressed through criminal law enforcement (even if the Colleyville case is an obvious call). But in the main, the Colleyville congregation did not choose one or the other, and its two-track approach served it well. And anyone who takes from Colleyville that the synagogue should abandon the solidaristic part of its mission, that it now should only rely on the police and the guns and the walls and the fortifications, is I think badly missing the point.

However. There is a version of "safety through solidarity" that does not accept the validity of this two-track approach. Insofar as a synagogue choices to have relationships with the local police, and groups like the ADL, it is, the argument goes, consciously choosing to forgo the solidaristic route and should be condemned for it. Few were so crass as to make that argument directly about the Colleyville synagogue while the crisis was ongoing. But as memories fade (and they seem to fade quickly), people become more brazen in acting as if the only reason a synagogue would have these connections with law enforcement is due to a self-conscious decision to imbricate themselves into a system of White supremacy. A synagogue or Jewish community that elects to do that is a synagogue that is electing out of "safety through solidarity". It is instead one that is choosing unabashed and unapologetic harm to the communities that might offer "solidarity", and so can be spurned in turn.

In this register, the mantra "safety through solidarity" is not outreach. It is a threat. It is a threat because, again, "safety through solidarity" has no reply to Colleyville-style incidents. There was no real, realistic alternative in Colleyville other than the use of police. Colleyville illustrates decisively how these sorts of partnerships and initiatives and relationships are essential to Jewish safety; they cannot simply be "dropped". Outside cases like Colleyville, the security network that has been developed by groups like the ADL in partnership, yes, with law enforcement is not easily replaced even if we can imagine myriad ways in which it could modified or supplemented. And yet the demand is not to see reform or alteration, it is to see them dropped, dropped immediately, dropped without real replacement, and if they're not dropped then the synagogue has marked itself as an enemy -- if they're left to survive on their own, well, the blood is on them and their children.

Mantra notwithstanding, this is not actual "solidarity", this is ultimatum -- and it's an ultimatum that everyone knows cannot and will not be generally accepted. Ironically enough, when presented in this form, "safety through solidarity" becomes a vehicle for fraying bonds of solidarity that might otherwise take root (imagine if all the churches and mosques with which the Colleyville synagogue had been doing laudatory interfaith work decided to pull out because the congregation was tainted by its association with the ADL). And that is a nasty threat indeed -- the impossible dilemma between staying alive and staying in community.

A genuine solidaristic approach would understand the promises and limits of the solidaristic approach, at least over the foreseeable future. Even to the extent we disagree about the extent to which police are necessary, there has to be recognition that the choice by Jewish communal institutions to have these relationships with law enforcement is not reducible to simply "endorsing White supremacy"; the basic respect that undergirds any genuine solidaristic relationship demands at least that much. After all, there is no major racial, religious, or ethnic community in the United States right now that is primarily comprised of police abolitionists; it would be folly to make ACAB a litmus test before solidarity can be extended, and for the most part it is not a litmus test demanded before solidarity is extended. It is entirely possible -- and the Colleyville congregation is by all accounts a sterling example -- to build out bonds of solidarity and community under circumstances where there is tension and disagreement, to hash those disagreements out, to find areas where the ball can be pushed forward, and to think creatively towards new solutions to seemingly intractable dilemmas. But that process cannot be circumvented by ultimatum, and those who try are not I think actually all that interested in developing genuine solidaristic relationships.

There are very, very good reasons why the Jewish community tries to build up relationships with law enforcement agencies. There are very, very good reasons why the Jewish community has organizations like the ADL. Part of building up solidaristic relationships means understanding these necessities and these relationships. Once that happens, we can think about how their contours might be modified or altered -- they are not sacrosanct. The Colleyville congregation, by all accounts, is an example of a Jewish institution that seems genuinely committed to doing this work and doing it right, proof positive that one can build out solidarity while still maintaining the requisite relationships necessary in the event of calamity. They deserve immense praise for that, a model that can be emulated. But skipping that work and beginning with the ultimatum is not solidarity. It is a threat. And Jews are not wrong to hear it as one.

1 comment:

Ari Allyn-Feuer said...

It's that classic solidarity oppressed groups sometimes get, where someone else tells them what to do and they have to do it as a condition of their safety.

The right to define one's own oppression or lead one's own struggle? Coupon code not valid.