Now that the war has turned messy, unpredictable, bloody andcruel (i.e., into a war), it takes no special insight to assume that its violence will spill over onto our shores.
Our public safety officials in Los Angeles have identified549 sites as high-risk targets, among them Los Angeles International Airport,ports, movie studios and synagogues.
Why movie studios, I asked Steven Pomerantz. Pomerantz, whowas in Los Angeles last week, served 27 years as an FBI counterterrorism agent.He now runs his own security consulting firm near Washington, D.C., and servesas a terrorism expert for the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He said moviestudios are targets for the same reason synagogues are, and for some of thesame reasons the World Trade Center was. The terrorists perceive all of these,in varying degrees, as Jewish institutions.
“They define Jewish targets differently than we do,” hesaid. “What keeps me up at night is the thought of an attack on a Jewishtarget.”
Since Sept. 11, our day schools, synagogues and institutionshave increased security measures, adding security guards and surveillencecameras.
But Pomerantz, whose own children attend Jewish day school,has even tried to convince his rabbi that we need to do more. He admits towanting his children’s school turned into “a fortress.” One shot at a securityguard and the terrorists have an all-access pass; temples and schools that abutbusy streets are ripe for car-bombings, and their leaders should consider relocating — seriously.
Don’t forget, he said, terror comes in waves, and sinceSept. 11 we have been in somewhat of a trough.
“But maybe the war will arouse them,” he said. “If anythingcan do it, this can, and whatever the threat level is for the general population,it is higher for the Jews.”
So why don’t we take such dire warnings and recommendationsmore to heart? Either we dismiss experts like Pomerantz as alarmists — and somepeople do — or we gamble. That is, the cost of higher security, both in terms ofmoney and disruption, are beyond what we consider worth paying now. So we hopethat nothing will happen. And if it should, we figure the odds are it willhappen to another shul, another school. Maybe then the money and will to fixour own problems will easily materialize. Ever since an attack on Rome’scentral synagogue by PLO terrorists in 1982, synagogue security there is paidfor by the Italian government.
But there might be other ways of increasing our securitywithout bankrupting our institutions or ginning up fear and pandemonium.
In London, an organization called the Community SecurityTrust (CST) uses trained volunteers and full-time paid professionals to providethe 195,000-strong Jewish community there with physical security advice andtraining, security volunteers at communal events, assisting the police andmonitoring communal threats.
“There is no other country of which I am aware that has sucha developed and disciplined community-based security organization,”said SirPaul Condon, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service of London.
Here, The Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation Leagueoffer Jewish institutions a broader approach to issues of security, but the range and diversity of L.A. Jewry make centralized solutions much morechallenging.
“There is some coordination,” said Federation President JohnFishel, “but it’s very difficult given our scope and geography.”
The CST model may not be a perfect fit, and it wouldn’treplace increased help from the local and federal governments, but a closerlook at it may provide a new and improved way to address the increased securityneeds of our community.
“If the [CST] didn’t exist,” said David Veness, assistantcommissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, “we would have to invent somethingvery much like it.”