Bombs that give us strength: Extremist attacks on Jews may actually speed up the peace process, argues Chaim Bermant

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BEING a Jew has always had its hazards, but they have changed their shape. For the past 25 years or more, Jews in the diaspora have been among the victims of the terrorist campaigns against Israel, and there have been bomb attacks on diplomatic missions, synagogues, kosher restaurants - anywhere that is identified with Jews. Such places have taken elementary safety precautions, but there are more than 300,000 Jews living in Britain alone. They have scores of synagogues, and dozens of Jewish schools, colleges, welfare institutions, community centres, youth clubs; they cannot expect police protection or arrange security guards for them all.

Eminent individuals are also under threat. In December 1973 Edward Sieff was shot through the mouth when he answered his front door, and today Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has to be accompanied by security guards when he goes about his work. But the threats to Jews have had no major impact on organised Jewish life. Schools have not been closed nor outdoor activities curtailed. No one has avoided Jewish meetings, restaurants or synagogue services for fear of a bomb attack.

There is no thought of any retreat into fortified compounds, not only because this would be impractical, but it would give terrorists the belief that they were getting somewhere. The bomb that went off outside Balfour House in North Finchley yesterday morning did not even affect the daily routines of the Jewish organisations that use the building. The broken glass was swept from the pavement, new windows were installed, but otherwise it was business as usual. Anglo-Jewry can take it.

There were occasional attacks by fascists on Jewish institutions and individuals here before the Second World War, and Jewish self-defence groups sprung into being. In the main, though, Jews then had a general sense of helplessness and dismay in the face of their enemies.

The emergence of Israel changed that. Where there was dismay there is now defiance, even though the scale of the new atrocities suggests that they are state-sponsored. Whether Israel will attack terrorist bases in southern Lebanon, Syria or even Iran in response to the bomb in London and before that in Argentina, is beside the point. Jews no longer feel helpless or friendless.

It is obvious why Muslim extremists should try to attack Israeli embassies. They are the symbol and agency of that Israeli state. I find it more difficult to explain why they should also single out Jewish institutions. In the past they have tended to avoid religious and cultural buildings. They may possibly think that by terrorising the diaspora they will inhibit Jewish support for Israel, but in fact nothing draws Jews more closely to Israel, heightens Jewish consciousness and solidarity than a sense of common danger.

But more than that. Jews in the past felt there was something vacuous about their Zionism, for while they drew reassurance and pride from the existence of Israel, they did not share its sacrifices. They do now. Muslim extremists have placed them in the front line, and the effect, while worrying, is almost invigorating. They feel like honorary Israelis.

Jews are a disparate and fractious race with a tendency to fall apart, and last month Israel's president, Ezer Weizman, convened a conference of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem because he feared that diaspora Jews living in a free world could fade out of existence - which they could, but for recurring external threats as exemplified by the London bombs.

If they would only leave us alone for a generation, said Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, we would all vanish. There is no chance of that. A famous passage from the Passover liturgy - 'In every generation men rise against us to destroy us' - is repeatedly confirmed by experience.

The problem in this instance, however, is not only a Jewish one. Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not anti-Semites in the classical sense of the term, if only because they are semites themselves, and they have declared war not only on Israel and the diaspora, but against Western civilisation, which they regard with contempt as the work of Satan.

The New York World Trade Centre, which suffered a massive Hamas attack, was not a specific Jewish target. The car bomb that destroyed the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires killed some Jews and a great many non- Jews, and it was a miracle that the car bombs in Kensington and Finchley resulted only in a few injuries.

For Hamas and others, non-Jewish casualties are not a regrettable by-product, but a desirable bonus. They have also killed many Arabs. The more blood, the more deaths, the greater the devastation, the better. There is no limit to the enormities that men or women will commit when they are convinced they are asserting the will of God.

Israel remains their main target, not because it is a Jewish state, but because they regard it as a Western outpost in a Muslim world - much as the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem was in Crusader times. They hope eventually to triumph over the Jews much as their forefathers triumphed - it took them a century to do so - over the Crusaders.

But the Crusaders were aliens to the Holy Land; the Jews are not. The Crusaders had homes to go back to, the Jews do not; and now that most moderate Arabs have reconciled themselves to the existence of Israel, the extremists have redoubled their efforts to undermine it. Their very desperation is proof that the peace process is working, and their atrocities, far from impeding it, are only likely to accelerate it.

(Photograph omitted)