When you hear “Jewish self-defense,” you probably think of the IDF, since that’s pretty much the best example around. Max Nordau’s promotion of “Jewry of Muscle” was a key (or at least memorable) part of early political Zionism. But Jews defending themselves as Jews, using physical strength to defend their rights both to be and to be Jewish, all of this both existed before and exists outside of the Jewish State. My favorite example of this from fiction has to be the scene in Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, in which a successful and successfully assimilated Jewish character responds to being called a “goddamn Jew” not by running away or by complaining to others nearby, nor even by appealing to a Jewish organization, but by neatly punching the offender in the face. And it’s awesome.
It’s far more starting, and perhaps impressive, on an individual level, to see a WWI-era American Jew with a changed name and a precarious place in society punch an anti-Semite than to see an IDF soldier just doing his job. Of course, the many have certain advantages over the few, and Israel presumably remains the best response in terms of Jews defending themselves as Jews.
David Kopel of the Volokh Conspiracy has a great post up about “Jewish Boxing, Fencing, and Self-Defense.” The idea that, even in the Diaspora, some Zionist ideals of Jewish strength could be carried out is quite interesting, if dubious. What’s muscle without political power? And does muscle, physical or political, actually make Jews more respected in the world? Ideally, some combination of the two might do something along those lines, but who knows.