British security stalwarts in record demand following Paris, Copenhagen attacks

On a nondescript street in the London suburbs, guards with earpieces stand watch outside a brown building with blast-resistant doors and windows.

The building does not advertise the identity of its occupants, and the guards do not appreciate loitering by individuals curious to find out.

Though it resembles a secret government facility or money vault, the building is actually the headquarters of the Community Security Trust, widely considered the best-organized Jewish defense force in Europe and one of British Jewry’s most admired institutions. With an annual budget of $7.5 million, the CST has served for 20 years as the Jewish community’s shield, research service and anti-Semitism watchdog.

In the United Kingdom, the CST has become the natural address for record numbers of volunteers who have inundated the group with applications following the slaying of five Jews in two Islamist attacks earlier this year in Paris and Copenhagen. Within weeks of the attacks, the group had dispensed the entirety of its annual budget of matching funds for community security upgrades.

Outside Britain, Jewish groups from across Western Europe have sought CST’s assistance in developing the sort of skills in crisis management, training and outreach honed by the group over the years.

“We’re sort of CST copycats,” said Michael Gelvan, the Copenhagen-based chairman of the Nordic Jewish Security Council, a regional security network set up in 2010. “For us, CST’s structure and capabilities are absolutely the standard.”

This week, JTA gained rare access to CST’s London-area headquarters, which comprises a buzzing situation room, a large gym area for briefings, a self-defense training room and conference rooms fitted with video equipment that link with CST’s two other centers, in Leeds and Manchester.

The organization employs a staff of about 60 and a corps of 3,000 volunteers. Its budget comes almost entirely from donations.

After four people were gunned down at the Jewish Museum of Belgium last year, CST was the only foreign Jewish security service that sent a delegate to the situation room set up by the European Jewish Congress in Brussels.

Sending delegates “allows CST to share its experience with other communities when it counts, but also to learn from the situations they encounter,” said Mark Gardner, CST’s director of communications.

In 2003, CST sent representatives to Istanbul after the bombing of two synagogues left 27 dead and 300 wounded. The representatives learned that most of the injuries from the attack were caused by shards of glass from broken windows. Subsequently, Gardner said, CST installed anti-shatter film “literally on every community-building window.”

In the past, Jewish communal defense in England was the responsibility of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. But following Palestinian terrorist attacks against European Jews in the 1990s, British Jews decided in 1994 to establish CST as a stand-alone agency responsible for tactical security as well as its own budget and fundraising.

CST’s chairman, Gerald Ronson, said last year that the danger of jihadist terrorism dominates his organization’s work. But as he noted in CST’s 2014 report, the effort to defend against that threat draws from decades of experience in dealing with fascists and neo-Nazis.

Today, the group’s volunteer guards in CST vests are ubiquitous in Jewish neighborhoods standing sentry outside synagogues and at large communal gatherings. But in the wake of several deadly terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in Europe in recent months, CST resources have been put to the test like never before.

Within three weeks of the killing of four Jews on Jan. 9 at a kosher supermarket near Paris, CST had pledged all of the $750,000 it had set aside this year for the Security Enhancement Project, an initiative in which the CST matches funding for security upgrades provided by individual communities. Some $7.5 million has been allocated through the project since 2008.

“Schools, synagogues and other institutions that we had already advised long ago to up their security arrangements rushed to ask us for funding,” Gardner said.

Along with the requests for help came an unprecedented flood of volunteers. More than 150 people seeking to enlist as card-carrying security guards for CST approached the organization in the aftermath of the Paris attack. The rush broke a record set only last summer, when 150 people stepped forward following an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks tied to Israel’s war in Gaza, according to Gardner.

One of the new recruits is a 20-year-old university student who, for security reasons, asked to be identified only by his first name, Howard.

“I wanted to volunteer when I turned 18, but my friends made fun of me, asking why I wanted to play at being a soldier,” Howard said. “No one laughed after the Paris attacks. We all know it could happen here tomorrow.”

Among British Jews, there are signs of a growing security consciousness. In Golders Green, a heavily Jewish London neighborhood where many shops prominently display Hebrew-language signs, locals twice approached a visiting journalist recently to ask about his business there. At one north London Orthodox school, 150 parents showed up for two sessions on security procedures following the Paris killings. Last year, only 10 parents showed up for a similar session.

“It’s troubling because it shows that people are scared,” Gardner said. “On the other hand, it’s good that they can do something about it. It’s what we’re here for.”

Yet alongside a growing recognition of CST’s significance, the organization is also facing criticism over what some see as a lack of transparency.

Geoffrey Alderman, a historian and commentator for The Jewish Chronicle of London, has been vocal in his demand that CST reveal the names of its trustees, which are unlisted with permission from the Charity Commission for security reasons.

In a recent lecture, Alderman charged that CST is unaccountable to the community it serves, noting that communal defense was once the province of the Board of Deputies, whose leadership is elected democratically. CST’s is not.

Gardner said CST “made use of a dispensation given by police to prevent exposing out trustees to people who might seek to hurt them.” For that, he added, “CST is making absolutely no apologies.”

British anti-Semitic incidents set record in ’14, security watchdog reports

The Jewish security watchdog group in Britain recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents for 2014, the highest annual total ever.

The Community Security Trust in a report published Wednesday said the number of incidents from last year was more than double the 535 from 2013, and it marked the first time that the number exceeded 1,000  in a calendar year. The previous record was 931 incidents in 2009.

The highest monthly totals coincide with the summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict, which lasted from July 8 to Aug. 26. CST, which runs an incident hotline, reported a record 344 incidents in July and 228 in August, the third most ever in a month. By comparison, in 2013 there were 59 incidents recorded in July and 48 in August.

The incidents included 81 violent assaults, with one considered extreme violence involving a threat to life, an increase of 17 percent from 2013; 81 incidents of damage and desecration to Jewish property, an increase of 65 percent from the previous year; 884 incidents of abusive behavior such as verbal abuse, hate mail, anti-Semitic graffiti on non-Jewish property and anti-Semitic content on social media, up 136 percent from 2013; 92 incidents of threats, up 142 percent from 2013;  and 30 incidents of literature, such as mass-produced anti-Semitic mailings and emails.

More than half the incidents involved verbal abuse in public directed at random Jewish people, and 233 of the incidents involved the use of Internet-based social media, according to CST.

Some 69 of the incidents targeted synagogues, and another 41 targeted worshippers on their way to or from prayer. Another 66 incidents targeted Jewish schools.

“These attacks are not only an attack on British Jews, but an attack on all of us and our shared values,” Eric Pickles, secretary of the government’s British Communities, told the Guardian. “This is totally unacceptable. Those who perpetrate hate crimes of any kind will be punished with the full force of the law.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking to the Parliament on Wednesday, said, “We need to do everything we can to help this community feel safe and secure in our country,” according to The Associated Press. “I would hate it for British Jews not to feel that they have a home here in Britain — safe, secure and a vital part of our community.”

In Europe, big gaps exist among security precautions at Jewish institutions

Within hours of Israel's assassination of a top Hamas commander, the situation room sprang into action, anticipating retaliatory attacks and preparing instructions to keep civilians out of harm's way.

No, the room wasn't deep in a bunker beneath Jerusalem, but thousands of miles away — and at a seemingly safe remove from the violence on the ground — in London.

It was the situation room of the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s security agency, which was open for business within hours of Israel's killing of Ahmed Jabari last week.

The CST has long been considered the gold standard in European Jewish community security. But communities across the continent recognize that they are all at risk from anti-Semitic attacks, which often spike in the wake of Israeli military operations, and are struggling to ramp up security precautions despite the often prohibitive costs.

“There’s no telling what would ignite the next wave of attacks against our communities,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said at a crisis management training session that drew leaders from 36 Jewish communities to Brussels on Nov. 6, eight days before the Israeli military launched its Operation Pillar of Defense. “It could be hostilities between Israel and Iran or in Gaza or a stupid film on Muslims in YouTube. We have to assume it’s coming.”

Nine months after a deadly attack by a Muslim extremist claimed four lives at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, European Jewish leaders are beginning to take steps to address some glaring gaps in the security capabilities of the continent's Jewish communities. But the process is hindered by the enormous costs involved and differing views of where the primary responsibility lies for ensuring Jewish safety.

Approximately half of Europe's Jewish communities have no crisis-management plan in place. Even in large communities demonstrably at risk of attack like France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish community of about 500,000, security resources remain scarce and some congregations have virtually no protection. While CST's situation room was humming last week, the offices of the organization's French counterpart were unreachable by phone or email.

“Nine months ago, Jewish communities in Europe received a wake-up call when Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical, killed three children and a rabbi in Toulouse,” said Arie Zuckerman, secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund, which bankrolls much of the EJC’s activity. “At the same time, the spike in anti-Semitic attacks coincides with a recession which is hampering communities’ ability to carry the burden of security costs.”

In Toulouse, the Otzar Hatorah school had surveillance cameras in place and a tall fence around the perimeter, but no one monitored the video feed and there was no guard, which allowed Merah to easily enter the compound toting a gun. Insiders from that community spoke of “a total collapse” immediately after the attack.

“In such an event, which has the potential of destroying a community, crisis management can restore a sense of order and enhance the community’s resilience,” said Ariel Muzicant, the former head of the Austrian Jewish community and head of the EJC crisis-management task force.

Only 20 of the 36 communities in the EJC have crisis-management programs, which determine who does what in case of emergency. In Marseille, where 80,000 Jews live among 250,000 Muslims, there is no security guard present even at prayer time and during Hebrew school lessons at the French city's Jewish community center and great synagogue. On a recent Sunday, walking into the complex simply meant pushing open the front door, which remained unlocked.

Among European Jewish communities, British Jewry is the undisputed security leader. The CST has five offices, dozens of employees and thousands of volunteers, drawn mainly from Britain’s Jewish population of 250,000. Since 2008, CST has installed about 1,000 closed-circuit cameras and digital video recorders in dozens of buildings, and has trained 400 British police officers on hate crimes.

The SPCJ, French Jewry’s security unit, did not respond to questions about its budget, size or procedures. But Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities of France, said SPCJ had a “vast network of dedicated volunteers.” The unit is particularly visible in Paris, where Jewish schools and buildings receive robust protection by SPCJ guards and police.

The CST budget was $5.8 million last year, which it raised through donations and government subsidies. The budget is more than double that of Britain’s Board of Jewish Deputies, the country's main Jewish umbrella organization, and far larger than most European Jewish security organs. Smaller communities, most of which are less than one-fifth the size of Britain’s, can only dream of deploying security resources at that scale.

“The subject of funding for security is particularly painful for Europe’s smaller communities,” said Anne Sender, a former president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, which has just 750 members. “We simply don’t have the deep pockets that larger communities have.”

Norway's Jews spend just $87,000 annually on security — about half of what they raise each year in fees that also support education and religious services, according to Ervin Kohn, the community's current president.

Kohn launched a media campaign that persuaded the government to make a one-time grant of $1.2 million this year to protect Norwegian Jews. It was half of what Kohn had sought to ensure security at a “reasonable level” over the next few years, he said.

In response to Kohn’s efforts, a known Muslim extremist last month wrote on Facebook that he would “protect” the synagogue right after he gets an “AK-47 rifle and a hunting license.” In 2006, a Muslim extremist opened fire with a semiautomatic assault rifle on the synagogue.

Unlike in Britain, where security is largely seen as the community's concern, other European Jews see it as the government's responsibility.

“I pay for Jewish life, not Jewish security,” said Eric Argaman of Oslo, who pays about $200 a year in community membership fees. “That’s the government’s job.”

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Jewish leaders recognize that they cannot rely solely on the government. In Sweden, with a Jewish population of about 20,000, authorities have made a one-time grant of approximately $500,000 for security at Jewish institutions — a sum that doesn't “begin to cover costs,” according to Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities.

In Malmo, Sweden's third largest city and the site of dozens of anti-Semitic incidents each year — including a bomb attack in September on the Jewish community center — there is only one part-time security professional, according to Jonas Zolken, regional director for Sweden at the Nordic Jewish Security Council. In Denmark, where the capital city lies just over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, the government offers no security funding for the country’s 8,000 Jews.

“Our experience shows we need to cooperate with local police and security authorities, but ultimately can rely on no one but ourselves,” said Johan Tynell, the Malmo-born director of security for Denmark’s Jewish community.

In the Netherlands, with 40,000 Jews, the community spends more than $1 million on security without any significant help from the government, according to Dennis Mok, the community’s security officer.

“Even after Toulouse, the official Dutch position is that there is no elevated threat toward the Jewish community,” Mok said. “We, of course, have a different view.”

To free communities from depending on the threat assessments and budgetary constraints of national governments, the European Jewish Congress has been lobbying European leaders to arrange for security funding from the European Union. French President Francois Hollande and Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas already have said they would support the initiative, Kantor told JTA.

Meanwhile, the EJC announced it was establishing a continent-wide security fund, but did not specify how much would be allocated. The congress also has teamed up with the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps to help small communities lower security costs. The corps, a nonprofit international organization that aims to empower young Jewish professionals, will send its “most capable” crisis advisers “to help small Jewish communities build foundations for defense,” according to its director, Michael Colson.

Moreover, some Jewish leaders say much more can be done, even on a shoestring budget. Tynell said at the conference that Jewish professionals should be recruited as volunteer crisis managers and given responsibility for talking to the media, doing internal communications, coordinating with local authorities and even delivering kosher food to anyone who might be hospitalized.

“When these things are left to chance, the resulting mess compounds the trauma which members of the community will experience in a crisis,” Tynell said. “Prevent this or your community members will suffer for a long time.”

London Jewish community, already vigilant, is advised to beef up security for Olympics

Typically on high alert, London’s Jewish community organizations are being advised to take additional security measures during the Olympics.

The Community Security Trust, the charity that represents and recommends the community on matters of security, has told Jewish groups to implement or increase patrols around their buildings. CST’s guidelines also remind community groups of basic security steps such as questioning visitors to community buildings, not congregating outside and ensuring that all security equipment is working.

“We are not aware of any specific threats related to the Jewish community,” emphasized Dave Rich, the CST’s deputy director of communications. “This is the normal kind of advice we would give to people when there are high-profile events taking place in London. There might be some anti-Israel demonstrations, but we are not expecting massive disruptions.”

The London Jewish community’s security infrastructure already is highly developed, with guards posted outside nearly every synagogue, school and community building. Additionally, CST-trained volunteers help to secure major community events.

Among the concerns is that the high volume of overseas visitors expected at Jewish community venues during the Games will present a security challenge. In addition, the security alert for the entire city may be raised.

“There is no doubt that the Jewish community needs to be vigilant, but there is nothing new in that,” said Hagai Segal, a lecturer at New York University in London and a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs and terrorism. “There is no evidence of any specific targeting of the Jewish community or of terror attacks being planned in general, either.”

Pointing to the general security operation in London that is “unprecedented in British history,” he said, “When the country is better protected, the Jewish community is better protected, too.”

In the absence of a specific threat, Segal added, the Jewish community has no need to increase its security arrangements significantly, as they are already so extensive.

“The community has had to get used to having patrols around synagogues and a system for the reporting of anti-Semitism, and it is recognized as having one of the best community security systems anywhere,” he said. “The London Metropolitan Police actually uses the CST as an example of efficient community policing. The community is expert in this area, which ensures that when there are special events in the city, they don’t have to do much more.”

Similarly, he said, London as a whole had been operating at the highest or second-highest level of threat assessment since the subway and bus bombings on July 7, 2005, and is also accustomed to extensive counterterror measures.

“A lot has been learned since 7/7. The UK has become very good at counterterrorism,” Segal said.

Meanwhile, the details regarding security for the Israeli delegation to the Olympics are being closely guarded.

Efraim Zinger, secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and head of the Israeli Olympic delegation, would confirm only that the British were responsible for the team’s security and that the delegation would not be housed in a separate building in the Olympic Village.

“We are closely following the security measures taken by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and by the British government,” Ziniger said. “We really appreciate the enormous effort and money that is being invested. They know how to do this work and we trust them.”

He acknowledged that a large event like the Olympics was “naturally very attractive for the bad guys,” but said that the threat was not just to Israel, as the British and Americans could be targeted as well.

“There is complete cooperation in all areas, we have open channels,” Zinger said. “Those who need to protect the Games are concentrating on that and doing an excellent job. We are concentrating on our sportspeople doing an excellent job.”

The operation to secure London as a whole will be the most expensive in British history, costing $1.55 billion. Some 17,000 troops, 12,500 policemen and 7,000 security guards will be posted in the city, which has been nicknamed “Fortress London,” while an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames River, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed at six sites and unmanned drones with surveillance cameras will patrol the skies. 

Nevertheless, the security arrangements have been severely criticized in recent weeks after it emerged that the company contracted to protect the Olympic Park and stadiums failed to deliver enough personnel. The government has deployed 3,500 more troops than originally planned and warned that more might be necessary

Nerves were rattled earlier this month after six Islamist extremists were arrested in London over a possible terror plot. Three lived just a mile from the Olympic stadium. However, the London Metropolitan Police said the arrests were not linked to the Olympics.