Camp: Security first: fun and adventure in a safe setting


Chicagoan Christie Tate isn’t one to be easily cowed.

A lawyer and writer, Tate lives with her husband and two kids on the city’s South Side, which has seen a surge in violent crime over the past year. Last year, her kids got a day off from school because of an active shooter threat. Over the summer, someone was murdered in her alley.

But while Tate doesn’t want to change her lifestyle out of fear, the recent spate of bomb threats at Jewish community centers across the country gave her pause as she considered whether to send her kids back to a JCC camp this summer.

“I don’t believe that we should go running and alter our lives and our summer plans because of threats,” Tate said. “But then, when I was doing my research, I saw the pictures of the kids standing on the sidewalk during a bomb threat, having been evacuated — it just became more real. I just thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I was swayed by that, which is probably a problem.”

Despite the wave of recent threats against Jewish institutions, coupled with a surge in anti-Semitic activity in recent months, no one has been seriously injured by a security breach at an American Jewish summer camp. The worst incident many camp leaders could remember was in 2012, when a group of intruders drove through a religious camp in Pennsylvania yelling anti-Semitic slurs and damaging property.

But many Jewish camp leaders aren’t taking any chances.

“The foundation of our success is all about the sacred trust that exists between our parents, our campers and our communities and our camps,” said Paul Reichenbach, director of camping and Israel programs for the Union for Reform Judaism, which operates 16 summer camps across the country. “Parents have to have confidence that the people and place to where they’re going to send their children, in whom they’re going to entrust their children, has as their highest priority their child’s welfare.”

As with many Jewish summer camps, the Reform movement’s security efforts were beefed up significantly  after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The movement launched a security manual for their camps, created specific job requirements for camp safety personnel and established protocols for responding to a range of threats. It also retained the services of an Israeli security firm, which recommended security improvements from entrance gates to lighting and video surveillance. The camp’s security protocols are reviewed and updated annually.

Many involved in security at Jewish camps say that training and advance preparation are key — perhaps even more important than guards or barriers, both of which are increasingly common.

Among the preparedness steps camps are taking: the development of protocols that determine who does what in the event of an emergency. Preseason security training for camp staff has become commonplace. Camp leaders also are strengthening their relationships with local law enforcement, and many law enforcement agencies conduct annual site visits to familiarize themselves with the camp environment and provide advice.

“In the end, it’s all about training,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. “Training itself builds awareness. You can never train enough. By continuing to train, you’re building that sort of level of awareness.”

Security at summer camps presents a number of unique challenges not faced by urban Jewish institutions, which typically have a defined perimeter and controlled access points. Camps are open, their borders often marked by little more than a tree line, and everyone involved in their security acknowledges the need to strike a balance between safety and preserving the sense of freedom and openness emblematic of the camping experience.

They also have to contend with an evolving security climate. While radical Muslims presented the foremost security challenge in the wake of 9/11, that is no longer the case. Many camp leaders noted the case of Anders Breivik, who gunned down 69 Norwegians at a summer camp on the island of Utoya in 2011, as well as the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut in 2012.

“My concern is not just from jihadists anymore,” said Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, the organized American Jewish community’s security arm. “We’re starting to see a real uptick from the white supremacist side of the house right now. Some of these people are calling for death to the Jews. It’s pretty serious.”

Goldenberg stressed that he knows of no specific threats against Jewish camps and would not hesitate to send his own grandchildren to one, a sentiment shared by many other Jewish camp directors. And while most directors contacted for this story were hard-pressed to name a single serious security breach at a Jewish summer camp, a handful of recent incidents have raised the alarm.

In the summer of 2012, several intruders drove through Camp Bonim, a religious boys camp in rural Pennsylvania, according to local police who later arrested five suspects. In 2015, it was Camp Agudah Midwest, a religious camp in Michigan, where two vandals spray-painted a swastika and damaged a building, according to The Associated Press. That incident came two weeks after an attack at upstate New York’s Camp Karlin Stolin, in which three teenagers threw bottles and coins at campers and staff.

Officials at all three camps declined a request for comment. But security experts say the incidents only serve to highlight the dangerous level of unpreparedness at some Jewish summer camps.

“If anything, the risk has continued to rise,” said Joshua Gleis, a security consultant who works extensively with Jewish institutions. “I do think that camps certainly need to continue to button up security as you see schools, houses of worship, community centers doing right now. Many camps are not taking the actions that I think they should. While many have been improving, I know many camps that have still not changed their security structure significantly.”

Camp Seneca Lake in Honesdale, Pa., isn’t one of them. On the advice of the State Police, camp owner Irv Bader now has guards check all trucks entering the camp for deliveries. The camp has also hired 24-hour armed security — “not rent-a-cops,” Bader said — and installed a network of security cameras that are monitored around the clock. At night, the camp is illuminated with high-wattage lighting.

“It looks like daylight in the camp,” Bader said.

“I do it because it’s necessary,” he said of his security precautions. “The world is crazy today. And you’ve got too many crazies around. It’s a deterrent.”

Despite the heightened sensitivity, many camp directors say the most common threat to the well-being of campers comes not from violent attack, but from the weather.

Jamie Simon, the director of Camp Tawonga in Northern California, said she is far more concerned about an earthquake than an intruder. (In July 2013, her camp was hit by tragedy when a counselor died after a tree fell on her.) Still, the camp installed a video camera last year at its front gate so it can screen visitors remotely.

Camp Tamarack in Michigan is taking the camera tool even further. New technologies enable surveillance systems to learn about normal movement in an area and send an alert when it detects something anomalous.

For a camp like Tamarack, that sort of assistance is invaluable. The facility is among the largest Jewish residential camps in the country, covering more than 1,000 acres and 400 structures.

“It’s a force multiplier,” said Gary Sikorski, the director of communitywide security for the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. “You can monitor areas that would be almost impossible to monitor with an individual.

EU eyes Israeli technologies for spotting militants online


European powers are looking to Israeli-developed technology to develop better means for spotting “lone-wolf” militants based on their online activity, a senior EU security official said on Tuesday.

Last week's truck rampage in France and Monday's axe attack aboard a train in Germany have raised concern about self-radicalised assailants who have little or no communication with militant groups that could be intercepted by spy agencies.

“How do you capture some signs of someone who has no contact with any organisation, is just inspired and started expressing some kind of allegiance? I don't know. It's a challenge,” EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told Reuters on the sidelines of a intelligence conference in Tel Aviv.

Internet companies have begged off when asked to monitor their own platforms' content for material that might flag militants, De Kerchove said.

He said they had argued that the information was too massive to sift through and put into context, unlike child pornography, for which there were automatic detectors.

“So maybe a human's intervention is needed. So you cannot just let the machine do it,” De Kerchove said. But he said he hoped “we will soon find ways to be much more automated” in sifting through social networks.

“That is why I am here,” he said of his visit to Israel. “We know Israel has developed a lot of capability in cyber.”

Israeli security agencies once focused on “meta data”, or information regarding suspects' communications patterns. Now, beset by Palestinian street attacks, often by young assailants using rudimentary weapons and without links to armed factions, they have refocused on social media as a complementary means of gaining advance warnings from private posts.

TARGETED MONITORING

An Israeli military official who administers these methods said human intervention is required to set parametres such as age, religiosity, socio-economic background or links to known militants for the population being monitored. With the pool of potential suspects thus narrowed, the system can flag social media messages that may spell an imminent attack.

“We reassess our database daily, based on the changing security needs and what we have learned from terrorist attacks that took place or from captured terrorists,” said the official, who monitors Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the technologies.

The Israeli system distills the population being scrutinised through three stages, the official said. All are labelled “black” initially; those who match enough of the parametres to warrant extra attention are “gray”; and, of those, the ones whose conduct is deemed suspicious enough to trigger individual surveillance or a police arrest and interrogation are “white”.

“If the 'black' group were to number one million, I would anticipate the 'grays' numbering 20,000 and the 'whites' between 10 and 15,” the official said, giving hypothetical figures to convey the scale of the Israeli system's data filtration.

As De Kerchove was at pains to make clear to the conference, European standards of civil rights, such as privacy, make the introduction of intrusive intelligence-gathering technologies in the public sphere and aggressive police follow-ups difficult.

Israel's emergency laws give security services more leeway, but its intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called for cooperation with Internet providers rather than state crackdowns. He cited, for example, the encryption provided by messaging platform WhatsApp which, he said, could be a new way for militants to communicate and evade detection.

“We will not block these services,” Katz told the conference. “What is needed is an international organisation, preferably headed by the United States, where shared (security) concerns need to be defined, characterised.”

US Consulate in Jerusalem issues warning over gay pride march


The American Consulate in Jerusalem issued a warning to United States citizens to “exercise caution” at the city’s gay pride parade.

The warning about the Jerusalem Pride Parade comes as the city and police announced increased security measures for the march, scheduled for Thursday.

At last year’s parade, a haredi Orthodox man stabbed to death marcher Shira Banki, 16, and injured five others. This year’s parade is being held in Banki’s memory, and her parents in a public post on Facebook called on the public to join the march to support “tolerance and equality for all” and to stand “in resistance to violence as a way of solving any dispute or argument.” Their daughter was marching in support of her LGBTQ friends.

“The Consulate advises U.S. citizens participating in the march to exercise caution and to be aware that gatherings of large crowds can be a target for criminals, terrorists, and individuals motivated by nationalistic and political beliefs,” read the statement issued on Tuesday.

Marchers will only be permitted to join the march, both at the starting point at Liberty Park and at entrance points along the way, after undergoing a security check. No weapons will be permitted on the route, even to those with gun licenses.

Israeli police ban lawmakers, ministers from Temple Mount over Passover


Citing “security reasons,” Israeli police announced that Knesset members and government ministers are banned from visiting the Temple Mount during the eight-day Passover holiday, which begins Friday night.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld announced the rule Friday, the Times of Israel reported. Rosenfeld said that “the visits of tourists and Jewish visitors can continue normally.”

The Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews and Muslims, is adjacent to the Western Wall and is the one-time location of Judaism’s first and second temples. The site has witnessed numerous clashes between Jews and Palestinians in recent years, particularly during holidays.

Rumors that Israel planned to change the status quo that allows Muslims control on the Mount and prohibits Jewish prayer there sparked a surge of Palestinian violence that began in October. Israel has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the status quo; however, a growing number of Israeli Jews who advocate for greater Jewish access to the site have in recent years visited the Temple Mount, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Their visits, along with those by right-wing Israeli lawmakers, are viewed by Muslims and Palestinians as a provocation and threat to the status quo.

Rosenfeld said that 3,500 police will be on patrol in Jerusalem during Passover, an increase above the usual number. He declined to say how large an increase it represented, however.

“These forces are patrolling in all public places, bus stations, shopping malls, tram stations,” he said.

During Passover tens of thousands of Jews visit Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israel has also closed off all crossing points from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for Friday and Saturday, fearing a wave of violence during the start of the holiday.

Security ramped up in Jerusalem in aftermath of bombing


Security has been increased throughout Jerusalem in the wake of the bus bombing on Monday that injured 21 people.

“Extra police units and border police are patrolling public areas,” Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Times of Israel.

Rosenfeld cited bus stations and the light rail tram system in the city but did not specify how many reinforcements.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the municipality said the bombing will not alter plans for the tens of thousands of Jewish visitors expected to visit the Old City for Passover, which begins Friday night.

Meanwhile, one victim in critical condition may be the bomber, according to Israeli media reports. The person lost multiple limbs in the explosion, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

The reports have been neither confirmed nor denied by Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service, which are investigating the incident.

Two other victims remain in serious condition.

Rosenfeld confirmed to the Times of Israel that police officers would question the wounded and did not rule out the possibility of potential suspects among them.

“The investigation is looking to see how the explosive device was placed on the bus,” he said.

Remains of a bomb were discovered at the site of the bombing, according to the Post.

Police have placed a gag order on new details of the ongoing investigation.

The public bus was traveling in southern Jerusalem on Monday afternoon when it exploded, engulfing the nearly empty vehicle in flames. The flames scorched an adjacent bus, as well as a nearby car. The victims had burns on their upper bodies, as well as wounds from nails and ball bearings packed into the explosive device.

The attack follows a six-month wave of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks in Jerusalem, the West Bank and across Israel. The rate of those attacks had declined to normal levels, though Israeli officials remained concerned about a flare-up in violence surrounding upcoming religious holidays, including Passover.

Israel imposes partial closure on Ramallah


Israel’s military has imposed a partial closure on Ramallah, the West Bank city that is the seat of government for the Palestinian Authority.

The closure, which was imposed late Sunday night, is the first for a Palestinian city since the start of the current wave of Palestinian terror against Jewish-Israelis in October. It came hours after a Palestinian Authority police officer from Ramallah shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers at a security checkpoint near the city.

Under the edict, non-residents are banned from entering the city and residents are restricted from leaving.

The closure also was imposed due to security warnings for the area, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed Israel Defense Forces official.

ADL preps community for High Holy Days security demands


The three silent surveillance videos showed an all-too-disturbing sequence of events: First, a shooter carries a rifle into a supermarket in broad daylight; people flee the store and run for their lives. The shooter begins firing at people inside the market before struggling with a gun that appears to be jamming while he stomps around the aisles looking for more vict-ims.

These images from a January shooting in a Paris kosher supermarket that resulted in the deaths of four Jews were shown at this year’s local Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jewish security briefing, which explored the topic “What Can the U.S. Jewish Community Learn from Recent Acts of Anti-Semitic Terrorism in Europe?”

“What happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe,” Ariella Schusterman, associate regional director at the ADL, said during the Aug. 11 event at the organization’s Century City-based office.  

The annual security briefing takes place in advance of the High Holy Days season, a time of year when Jewish synagogues, social service organizations and day schools are generally on higher alert for security threats. The main topic varies — last year’s topic was cybersecurity — but every installment addresses evergreen concerns, such as how to balance security with inclusivity, the question of armed guards and more. 

This year’s main speaker, Michael P. Downing, deputy chief and commanding officer with the Los Angeles Police Department’s counterterrorism and special operations bureau, said recent European incidents such as this year’s supermarket shooting in Paris, the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead and a deadly shooting at a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, offer tragic but useful lessons. 

One of those lessons is how the radicalization of perpetrators occurs. In Europe, the speakers at the briefing said, officials have found that terrorists were radicalized in prisons, on the Internet, or by traveling overseas to fight alongside terrorist organizations before returning to their home countries and planning attacks. The same could be said for potential terrorists in the United States, they said.

“Not only is it the Jewish community, but it’s Western civilization under attack, and the Jewish community represents that in these [European] countries,” Schusterman said. 

In practical terms, the speakers focused on examples of low-cost and no-cost security. Schusterman spoke of congregants who are willing to volunteer as ushers and greet people at the door during the High Holy Days, but added that it is necessary — and free — for leaders to reiterate security procedures among the entire staff; every staff member, from the janitor to the rabbi, has “security somewhere in their job description.”

The ADL leader also emphasized the importance of cultivating relationships with law enforcement, advising people not to wait until an incident occurs to meet with local law enforcement. It harkened to a point Downing had made earlier in the day when the LAPD official suggested that greater involvement by law enforcement in Paris might have prevented the supermarket attack. 

“Just be aware,” Downing told the crowd at one point during his 25-minute remarks. “Learn how to participate.” 

More than 60 Jewish community leaders attended the event and several of them, including Marvin Goldsmith, former vice president of security at Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills and a congregant of the Orthodox shul for more than 50 years, brought up the question of armed guards during the Q-and-A. Downing and Schusterman each said it was up to the individual organization to determine what works best. 

As for the issue of congregants with gun licenses who want to carry a weapon into synagogue — something that has been brought up by local shooting clubs such as Bullets and Bagels and Jews Can Shoot — Downing gave a definitive response to the Journal: “Bad idea.” 

When the event was over, many attendees stuck around and discussed best security practices with one another. 

“At our congregation … every time someone sees a vehicle they don’t know, they let us know, which is great,” said Aaron Solomon, executive director of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge. 

Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El in Riverside said the event reinforced the importance of law enforcement, civic leaders and community members working together on security issues.

“I think one of the main points that I got from today was the need to integrate disaffected communities and really bring them into the fold as far as, let’s say, being part of a police review board or chamber of commerce, and to really work with them,” Singer said, “rather than let the isolation continue.”

The unending cost of killing the Iran deal


In his 2006 book, “The Accidental Empire,” Gershom Gorenberg writes of Israel’s breathtakingly subtle, yet relentlessly evolving occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan.  He points out that a then young Amoz Oz warned of the “moral destruction” and corruption that comes to the occupier of a long occupation.  But he also quotes Moshe Dayan, speaking to the Palestinian Poetess Fadwa Tuquan of Nablus:  “The situation today,” Dayan says, “resembles the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the girl he kidnaps against her will…You Palestinians, as a nation, don’t want us today, but we’ll change your attitude by forcing our presence on you.”  He also chronicles French philosopher Raymond Aron asking then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol if he was worried about rebellion in the West Bank, “No,” Eshkol replied, “This isn’t Algeria.  We can strangle terror in the occupied territories.” 

Really?  

The robust battle in the Jewish community over the negotiated Nuclear Deal with Iran has focused almost entirely on how good or bad it will be for Israel and the likelihood of Iran going nuclear at the Deal’s end, spiced, unfortunately by inflammatory talk of the U.S. underwriting Iran’s acquisition of the bomb and ushering Israelis to the doorways of crematoriums. The anti-Deal side also focuses on Iran’s profile as both a regional and international “bad actor,” and sponsor of terrorism.  Importantly, the latter is not denied by the pro-Deal side, but unlike the anti-Deal side, the pro-Deal people are the side thinking about how to mitigate that activity. 

The anti-Deal side states the Deal could be better.  Senator Schumer says he’s against the Deal and that we should go back and negotiate a better one.  But if the Deal included, let’s say, only half of Iran’s frozen $100 billion in assets to be released let’s say, in the first five years, and a cap on Iran’s annual oil sales, and reduction of the poorer quality centrifuges from 6,000 to 1,000, we all know that Israel and their backers here in the U.S. would never sign off on it.  True, better it would be, but still not good enough, because it would not be perfect.  Only perfect will do for the anti-Deal side, and perfect is the well-known enemy of the good, and in this case, the unachievable.  Perfect cannot be achieved here.  And if good goes down here in obeisance to the perfect, the result will be an increase in bad actor activity.  You can take that to the bank. 

Israeli security exports are already on the record as saying that rather than new negotiations convening, Russia and China will move to subvert further sanctions.  Already, we read that Quds Force General and master terrorist Qassem Suleimani has been to Moscow.  Russia’s sinking economy needs foreign sales.  China is rapaciously seeking influence worldwide.  The worst of Iran’s international adventurism has been muted during negotiations.  But when the deal falls apart, what really then?  Curiously it is Israel itself that has the most close-up and historically comprehensive view of what is likely to happen.  The precursor test case for failed negotiations is the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories and what that has wrought.   

When Israel emerged victorious from the ’67 War, it moved inexorably  – albeit under a cloud of indecision and international ambiguity – to settle and occupy the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.  It’s stated position is that it would have returned those areas for a peace treaty, and perhaps it would have.  But that treaty, that perfect Deal, never happened, and those areas – unlike Sinai which was returned to Egypt, under a treaty that was perhaps less than a perfect but has ensured a lasting peace – well, those areas fifty years down the road have evolved into a seething miasma of intifada, terrorist activity, repeated war, and constant lone wolf mayhem, not to mention an international public relations nightmare, isolating Israel ever further.   As if that weren’t enough, the situation has bred an armed Jewish terrorism on the Right, the depth and scope of which can no longer be brushed under the rug – particularly after the recent killings.  In short, an attempt to keep a people “bottled up” has instead metastasized into an explosion of lethal chaos that cannot be strangled no matter how great the effort. 

Now let’s acknowledge that Iran is no sleepy agrarian and small-town West Bank and isolated Golan of back in the day.  No, it is an oil-rich, country of 80 million people with an army, an air force, a navy, and a nascent nuclear program and sophisticated operatives throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America, and probably everywhere else.   Iran has been under the stricture of international sanctions of one sort or another since 1979.  Before that we gave them the brutality of the Shah and his CIA-trained Savak.  They made a UN-sanctioned deal with the six “great powers” that many in Israel argue is a good deal, and if we kill it, if we try to “bottle up” and uni- or multi-laterally continue to try and “force our presence” on Iran; worse, if we bomb their nuclear facilities, what Gaza and the Occupied Territories have become, what Iran has shown itself capable of in Beirut, Buenos Aires, and Baghdad will quite likely become the world-wide future for not just Jews, but Americans and American interest everywhere. And it could (and probably will) go on for generations. 

This is what no one will talk about, particularly the war hawks beating their drums.  Iran is not Iraq.  There will be consequences for everyone, not just the men and women who go to fight and their particular families, which means, among other things, be prepared once again for the newly energized dialectic about the “Jewish Lobby,” and how it drives U.S. foreign policy.  Families that lose loved ones to a war or terror that didn’t need to happen for the perceived sake of that lobby, what will their attitude be toward their Jewish friends and neighbors, toward Jews in general, and toward Israel in particular?   

Now if you ask Benjamin Netanyahu, he will say he doesn’t care.  He’ll say this is a price that needs to be paid to save the state of Israel, despite dozens of Israeli security officials’ disagreement.  And he will tell you – in messianic, not practical context, because that’s the only way it makes sense – that the existence of the state of Israel is more important than how the world feels about Jews (and of course the Evangelical community agrees).  Will civilians rise up against Jewish targets, the way they did against Arab targets after 9/11?  Who knows?  One thing thought is certain.  An escalation of the policies of aggression and repression, and the hatred it engenders, will only and always redoubt to the detriment of Jews and Israel.  On the other hand, Israel can exist and engender good will as well if it will prove itself amenable to the reasoned argument of diplomacy and not subvert its future to apocalyptic speculation.

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles.

California adds new funding for nonprofit security


California’s budget, signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown, includes roughly $2 million to help fund security at nonprofit organizations that are at risk of violent attack. 

This new state grant program arrives at a time when many Jewish institutions are experiencing a heightened sense of fear because of an increase in the number of violent attacks worldwide by right-wing and Islamic extremists.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles led the effort to create the new funding program, which matches the amount allocated to California by a similar federal nonprofit security initiative that has faced significant cuts in recent years, reflecting a decrease in overall federal discretionary spending. 

As for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the federal security initiative, “The $2.1 million that was coming to California just wasn’t enough to meet the demand,” said Jesse Gabriel, the Federation board member who spearheaded the effort. 

Gabriel is on the board of Federation’s Community Engagement Strategic Initiative, which worked with state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica and Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Los Angeles to establish the new budget item. 

“We thought that given that the federal program is so oversubscribed that there is an important role for the state to step in here,” Gabriel said.

The new program is intended to alleviate the financial burden cash-strapped nonprofits can experience when implementing new security measures. It will fund physical security enhancements, including reinforced doors, alarms and high-intensity lighting, as well as security training. 

A few widely publicized incidents in particular have caused an uptick in anxiety in the Jewish community about anti-Semitic violence: a deadly shooting on a Jewish community center in Kansas City, Mo., in April 2014, a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels in May 2014, and deadly attacks earlier this year at a kosher market in Paris and a synagogue in Copenhagen. 

Additionally, the FBI recently advised some Jewish institutions in California of new information suggesting threats, according to materials provided by the Federation. 

“It’s a sad fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. The number of violent incidents over the last year, from the attack on the Jewish community center near Kansas City last year to the more recent incidents in Paris and Charleston, S.C., underscores the unfortunate reality that many of our nonprofit organizations are at high risk for terrorist acts,” Bloom said in a statement. “Providing this funding so that these organizations can better protect themselves is the least we can do.”

Many other communities — including African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Sikhs, immigrants, Asian-Americans, people living with disabilities and the LGBT community — are also facing an increase in hate-motivated violence, as evidenced by the murder of nine
African-Americans in a church in Charleston in June and the killing of three Muslim-American students in North Carolina in February. 

“I’m really proud that this program is going to help a lot of synagogues and Jewish community centers, but I’m also really proud that this is going to help African-American organizations, and Muslim-Americans, and the LGBT community,” Gabriel said. “I think this is a great example of the Federation doing work that benefits not only the Jewish community, but the broader community as well.”

Through its Community Security Initiative, Federation will continue to offer assistance to Jewish organizations seeking state and federal security grants, and for the first time will conduct outreach to other communities that might benefit from the funding. 

The federal program, created in 2005, has faced deep cuts in recent years. In its 2015 budget, Congress allocated $13 million to the program, $2.1 million of which is earmarked for nonprofits in California. With the addition of the state program, that number soon will double. 

As with the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the new state funding will be available to eligible nonprofits through grants from the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), formerly known as the California Emergency Management Agency. 

Cal OES will determine eligibility rules in the coming months, although those rules are expected to resemble the federal grant program, which looks at a history of attacks or threats against an organization or similar organizations, the symbolic or historic value of the site or institution, and the role of an organization in responding to a possible terrorist attack. 

Orthodox lobbyist: After Charleston, black communities need same security funding as Jews


In reporting on federal funding for securing nonprofits, we’ve noted, almost as a matter of boilerplate, that the vast majority of the funding – over 90 percent – goes to Jewish institutions.

There are several reasons for this:

– Jewish groups, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, have led lobbying for the funding, which has ranged from $15 to $25 million a year since the program was launched in 2005. As such, these groups are the most familiar with how to go about applying for the funds.

– Jewish institutions are increasingly vulnerable.

– And finally, from what I’ve heard – virtually no one else asks.

Wednesday, in the Washington Post, and after last week’s mass killing at a black church in Charleston, S.C., the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament said that should change. Communities at risk should avail themselves of the program, he said – adding that this will require increased funding,

“In light of last week’s terrible shooting at Emanuel, it seems even more critical for Congress to not only rapidly approve the [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] bill so this aid is available to all at-risk nonprofits, but also increase its funding so that the program can adequately serve all communities in need,” Diament said.

Diament also suggested that other communities adopt the Secure Communities Network that the national Jewish community has developed in recent years, establishing training templates to prevent attacks and to mitigate violence when they occur.

IDF chief pledges to protect Syrian refugees, provide humanitarian aid


The Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff said the army will act to protect Syrian refugees from being slaughtered by the Islamic State, or ISIS.

In a Knesset hearing Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said he is concerned by the proximity of Syria’s civil war fighting to the Israeli border and that the IDF will provide both humanitarian aid and security for fleeing Syrian refugees, the Times of Israel reported.

Also Tuesday, the IDF declared a part of the Golan Heights a closed military zone, preventing non-residents of the area, including tourists, from entering. The closure in the northeast portion is meant to “ensure the required safety level,” the IDF said in a statement. It follows intense fighting between government forces and rebels on the Golan border as part of the four-year civil war in Syria.

On Monday, thousands of Israeli Druze demonstrated on behalf of their Syrian counterparts, 20 of whom were murdered by ISIS last week. The Israeli Druze community announced that it had collected $2.6 million for the Syrian Druze to purchase weapons and urged the Israeli government to offer additional assistance, according to the Times of Israel.

British PM pledges additional millions for security for Jewish schools, synagogues


British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged millions of dollars in new funds to Jewish schools and synagogues to be used for security.

Cameron, speaking Wednesday at the annual dinner of the Community Security Trust, Britain’s Jewish security watchdog group, pledged about $14.9 million in new money for security “this year and every year, for as long as necessary.”

The money is to pay for guards and other security measures for private Jewish schools and for synagogue security, as well as for a control center for the operations of the Community Security Trust.

Jewish state schools already receive about $3 million in funds for security.

Cameron in his speech praised the Jewish community for its “enormous” contribution to Britain, and vowed that his government would give “everything we have got” to protect Jews.

“If the Jewish community does not feel secure then our whole national fabric is diminished. It is not just about the enormous contribution you all make to our society — it is more profound than that. It is a measure of the vigor of our institutions and the health of our democracy that the Jewish community feels safe to live and flourish here,” he said.

“At a time when once again the Jewish communities of Europe feel vulnerable and when anti-Semitism is at record levels here in Britain I will not stand by,” Cameron added.

Cameron also congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his reelection, saying, “With me you will always have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.”

The Community Security Trust  reported last month that it had recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents for 2014, the highest annual total ever and more than double the previous year.

Some 269,000 Jews live in Britain, making up 0.4 percent of the population.

Ex-Israeli generals target Netanyahu’s security image


Against a soundtrack of dramatic music, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lists his government’s security accomplishments, declaring over the shouts of opposition lawmakers that his Likud Party has stopped terrorists, stood up to Iran and secured Israel’s borders.

Released Wednesday, the video is the latest in a string of Likud campaign ads to hammer home a single message: When it comes to Israel’s security, no leader is as trustworthy as Netanyahu.

Israelis apparently agree. Polls show that on the defense issue, Israelis trust the prime minister more than his chief opponent, Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union.

Commanders for Israel’s Security is hoping to change that thinking. The group — a collection of 186 retired generals, including former chiefs of the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces — says nothing would be worse for Israel’s defense than a Netanyahu victory in Tuesday’s election.

Members charge that Netanyahu missed a key opportunity to improve Israel’s security posture after the conflict in Gaza last year, and say he lacks the mettle to handle the dispute with the Palestinians and improve relations with the United States.

“Bibi in his whole life hasn’t made decisions, doesn’t initiate anything,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) Asher Levi, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “At the end of Protective Edge we had an extraordinary chance to make some kind of regional pact with the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to fight Iran and extremist Islam. He didn’t do it.”

Despite his efforts to portray himself as the leader best poised to ensure the security of Israel, Netanyahu has had to fend off increasingly vocal criticism from former leaders of the defense establishment.

At a rally in Tel Aviv last week, Dagan issued a harsh rebuke of Netanyahu’s leadership before a crowd of 40,000. Yuval Diskin, the former director of the internal security service Shin Bet, has come out against Netanyahu’s handling of the Iranian nuclear threat and the Palestinian conflict. Former Shin Bet director Yaakov Peri, former IDF Intelligence Commander Amos Yadlin and former head of the IDF Southern Command Yoav Galant have all joined opposing parties ahead of the election.

“Israel is today at a low point unlike any since the state’s founding,” former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit says in a video released in late February by Commanders for Israel’s Security. “Eternal war is not a strategy.”

The group came together last year to praise Netanyahu’s “level-headed leadership” in the Gaza conflict and urge him to leverage the cease-fire to convene a regional peace conference. When Netanyahu ignored their advice, the group turned on him.

Commanders for Israel’s Security says Israel needs to set a final border with the Palestinians, cooperate on common interests with Arab states and improve relations with the United States.

“The job of a prime minister is not just to win the next war but to prevent the next war,” Levi said. “Bibi is doing nothing with that. The only serious ally we have is the United States. Bibi Netanyahu has done everything to mess up relations with the United States.”

Likud has brought its own security credentials to bear in standing its ground against the generals. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, himself a former army general, said the group offered false hope “that always costs us in blood.” He further claimed that the anti-Netanyahu generals weren’t familiar with the particulars of Israel’s current security challenges.

“This secure calm isn’t a given,” Yaalon said at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s a function of responsible leadership and thoughtful policy. It’s not a result of inaction. It’s a result of much action. And they give us so many suggestions — why aren’t we negotiating? And then, when we do negotiate, they blame us unfairly.”

Despite its opposition to Netanyahu, the generals insist they are not a partisan group. It’s also unclear how much influence they hold over an electorate that polls show is more focused on socioeconomic issues.

“The sense of security is high, so the feeling is that Israel isn’t in immediate danger,” said Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute senior fellow and an expert on Israeli public opinion. “People think [Netanyahu] didn’t deal poorly with security, and it doesn’t seem to be the most important issue.”

The safest place for French Jews


In light of the recent multiple stabbing on an Israeli bus, and the missile strike on the Golan that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven – an apparent Hezbollah retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed a senior Hezbollah commander and an Iranian General – I found myself thinking in a broader context about the current controversy of Jewish life in France, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s aggressive exhortation to French Jews to emigrate to Israel (an idea that picked up a lot of media steam for a while), and whether or not leaving for Israel would indeed be an emigration to greater safety. 

According to JewishVirtualLibrary.org, the number of people killed in Israel by terror attacks since 2005 is 118.  Once could no doubt quibble with the number plus or minus a handful, but this is a significant multiple of the number killed in France by terrorism over the same period.  According to Wikipedia, military deaths, beginning with a the Hezbollah War of 2006, and including the two soldiers killed on the Golan come to 229, with civilian deaths during military operations at 105.  The military and civilian wounded add up to more than 3,000.

Clearly these numbers dwarf any parallel statistics in France, which I visited twice this year.  On both visits, I saw Jews in the airport, the Metro, the buses, on the streets, and in shops wearing kepahs.  While I don’t doubt that post the January attack at the Kosher Market, there is increased trepidation on the streets of Paris amongst Jews who have lived there for generations, but would they actually be buying into a safer situation in Israel, where lone-wolf attacks exceed those of France – killing at least a dozen over the last few months – and where Jews are much easier to find. 

Obviously, when Prime Minister Netanyahu encourages French Jews to move to Israel, he’s thinking more than statistics.  Beside the politics, there is the legitimate question of living more openly as Jews, a practice that may be experiencing some increased inhibition in France.  But this is also a man (along with certain ministers) whose pugnacious promulgation of a very aggressive policy on nearly every front, as much as insures a continued, if not heightened, air of conflict in Israel for the foreseeable future. 

Chairman of the Labor Party, Yitzhak Herzog, who has recently blamed Netanyahu for a “strong lack of personal security” among Israelis.

“The reality is very clear. There is no sense of personal security. Not in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem which is divided by concrete barricades and not (in the communities) near Gaza. This is a real problem and the citizens of Israel will need to make a decision,” he recently told Israel Radio. 

Can it be that Netanyahu is more than a little responsible for this lack of security for Jews in and out of Israel.  He was an early persuasive contributor to the American Neo-con dream of ousting Saddam Hussein.  Now the Iraq War has spawned ISIS, which has brought Hezbollah into Syria.  How’s that working out for Jewish security? 

In a recent commentary that found favor on the Jewish Right, Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times editorial stated, “…it is not good for us or the Muslim world to pretend that this spreading jihadist violence isn’t coming out of their faith community. It is coming mostly, but not exclusively, from angry young men and preachers on the fringe of the Sunni Arab and Pakistani communities in the Middle East and Europe.  If Western interventions help foster violent Islamic reactions, we should reduce them.” 

If that’s true for “Western interventions,” perhaps it’s also true for certain Israeli policies and practices.  Israel has referred roughly 100 incidents of the most recent Gaza war for legal investigation.  Perhaps it’s time for Jews to stop putting their heads in the sand about the fact that Israeli actions and policies probably do have some inciting relationship to attacks on Jews outside Israel.  The simplest tracking of anti-Semitic incidents in France, for example, shows that the number of such incidents spikes significantly during Gaza wars.  Fifty years of occupation is going to inject not just a philosophical, but an emotional component into some people’s attitudes, motivations, and actions. 

Right now safety for Jews in many places seems to be at a low point.  To ascribe all of the threat as stemming from innate anti-Semitism, to take no responsibility whatsoever for actions or policies that are clearly contributing to that lack of security, only ensures that risk will increase, not be mitigated.  If Israel wants to truly encourage emigration, it should worry more about putting its own house in order and becoming a magnet for Jews who seek a bit of calm from the worldwide storm. 

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles and teaches in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Fraternity conclave focuses on hate crimes, security


A security consultant working for the primarily Jewish college fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) — the target of numerous hate crimes across the country, most recently at UC Davis, where members awoke Jan. 31 to find two swastikas spray painted on their house — was among those who addressed more than 800 of the fraternity’s members during a Feb. 6-8 conclave in Santa Barbara.

Consultant Doron Horowitz has been working with AEPi thanks to Secure Community Network (SCN), which provides resources for the likes of Jewish Federations and Jewish community centers by liaising with federal organizations such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, according to Paul Goldenberg, SCN national director.

The fraternity’s weekend gathering at UC Santa Barbara, which drew from 31 Western Region chapters, was closed to the media, and officials would not comment on the specifics of what was discussed. 

However, attendee Elan Carr, immediate past president of AEPi International and a criminal gang prosecutor who recently campaigned for former Congressman Henry Waxman’s seat, confirmed that a security consultant spoke with students during three presentations, including one delivered exclusively to UC Davis AEPi members.

Carr, 47, who joined AEPi when he was a student at UC Berkeley, told the Journal that the safety of AEPi’s members, including the 9,000 who are current, active dues-paying students, is of primary concern to the organization’s leadership, describing the security professionals working with AEPi as “people who are security experts who are on our payroll, who respond to the scene and who will work with the [respective AEPi] chapter on security measures on situational-awareness training, response training [and] liaise with law enforcement.”

Goldenberg, whose organization has been working with AEPi for about the past year, told the Journal the security goal at college campus institutions like AEPi is to retain the accessibility of facilities while ensuring that students are protected. SCN is also working with Hillel organizations toward the same goal, thanks in large part to Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, who approached SCN approximately one year ago with the request, Goldenberg said.

The debates on college campuses over Israel and issues like divestment are largely cited as reasons behind anti-Semitic attacks such as the one that just took place at UC Davis. A divestment vote had taken place — and been passed — by student government earlier in the week.

Incidents against AEPi also have occurred at Claremont colleges, on campuses in Oregon, Arizona and elsewhere.

Denouncing the attacks that have taken place at college campuses, Goldenberg said vandals such as those at UC Davis, who have yet to be identified, are failing to recognize the distinction between events in the Middle East and American-Jewish organizations that don’t necessarily have a stance on Israel. 

“AEPi and Hillels are American, they’re America, they are part of the American fabric, and as such … the day that any Jewish student or any student fears for his or her life to attend a cultural event or a religious event on any campus will be a very sad day for America,” he said.

After Paris, reassessing how nations thwart attacks


These are the lessons of the Paris attacks for American Jews and U.S. law enforcement: Keep calm and cooperate.

Enhanced communication between governments has been a key element of America’s counterterrorism successes since 9/11, experts say, and more is planned in the wake of last week’s attacks in France that left 17 dead.

President Obama announced this week that Washington will host a summit on Feb. 18 aimed at improving communications between nations that are would-be targets of terrorists. The U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, also outlined plans on Monday for better cooperation across national police forces and among U.S. law enforcement agencies to identify terrorist threats.

“Together with our colleagues in the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities, this department will continue its efforts to partner with the governments of France and other key counterterrorism allies to share information about terrorist threats and individuals of suspicion,” Johnson said in a statement. “We will recommit to these engagements.”

Information sharing between the U.S. and European governments suffered somewhat after the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, the rogue ex-National Security Agency employee who publicized classified information showing that the United States routinely spied on its allies.

“U.S. authorities have been in discussion with counterparts in Europe, but the post-Snowden environment has impeded information sharing,” said John Cohen, a senior adviser to the Rutgers University Institute for Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security and until last year a senior counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security.

“I suspect that [the France attacks] will change that environment and lead to better information sharing,” Cohen said. “We have to in a robust way enhance the sharing of information between European nations and the United States.”

In France, following the attacks on a satirical weekly and kosher supermarket, and the shooting of a police officer, there were renewed calls for a French version of the U.S. Patriot Act, which facilitated information gathering after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Cherif and Said Kouachi, the two brothers who attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, reportedly received weapons training in Yemen, had declared their allegiance to al-Qaida and were on no-fly lists. Amedy Coulibaly, the captor who took hostages and killed four at the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, also reportedly was known to U.S. security officials.

French authorities are still seeking six accomplices in the attacks, French reports said Tuesday, suggesting that the captors may have belonged to a larger terrorist cell.

One of the threats that most concerns Western security agencies are the Western fighters who go to Middle East battlegrounds for training and experience and then return to their home countries. A study published this week by the Brookings Institution says there are about 4,000 European fighters in Syria. U.S. officials have said 100 U.S. citizens have fought for the Islamic State, the jihadist group also known as ISIS to which Coulibaly pledged allegiance.

Paul Goldenberg, who directs security for the U.S. Jewish community, said that sharing information on returning fighters is frustrated by the fact that Europe represents an array of sovereign nations, each with its own security practices but with open borders.

European Union regulations on data sharing are complex and replete with restrictions arising out of privacy concerns. The 10 pages of regulations governing the sharing of telecommunications data, for instance, allow member countries to retain data obtained from other countries for no more than two years.

Goldenberg said terrorist sleepers often remain inactive for periods longer than two years.

“These terrorist groups are very patient and methodical,” he said.

Potential terrorists can travel easily through Europe’s open borders. Mehdi Nemmouche, the suspect in the killing of four people in an attack on the Brussels Jewish museum in May, was known to French authorities and had been flagged by Germany upon his return from fighting in Syria, but Belgian authorities were unaware of his presence.

Goldenberg, whose Secure Community Network is funded by the Jewish Federations of North America, said the training evident in the Paris attacks portended better planned attacks, even by “lone wolves” who act on their own but have undergone training in the Middle East.

“Everyone is trying to figure out what we do to stop a well-planned terrorist operation against a Jewish center,” said Goldenberg, who was in Paris meeting with Jewish leaders when the kosher supermarket attack took place on Friday. “There were armed guards at Charlie who were executed.”

As for the Jewish community, many best practices remain the same even after the Paris attacks, Goldenberg said, including training Jewish community professional and lay leaders in lockdowns and spotting suspicious behavior. Jewish communities need more such people, he said.

Another key element is making sure that faith communities and law enforcement are in close coordination. In the Jewish community, that may mean authorities and community leaders keep in close contact about any suspicious behavior at or around Jewish sites. In Muslim communities, that might mean monitoring fighters returning from the Middle East who embed in those communities.

Such coordination is commonplace in the United States but has been inhibited in Europe by mistrust among minorities of law enforcement and by a reluctance among some authorities to be seen as profiling religious communities.

The Brookings study emphasized the importance of engaging Muslim communities and not alienating them.

“The goal should be to move potential terrorists towards non-violence; since many are in that category already, hounding them with the threat of arrest or otherwise creating a sense of alienation can backfire,” it said. “In the past, family and community members have at times been successful in steering returned fighters toward a different path, even getting them to inform on their former comrades.”

Jeremy Shapiro, one of the authors of the Brookings study, said domestic security agencies’ focus on foreign fighters distracts from the overall goal of anticipating mass attacks – many of which have nothing to do with classic terrorism.

“We have had 74 school shootings in the 18 months after Sandy Hook,” he said, referring to the December 2012 massacre of 26 schoolchildren and teachers in Connecticut by a lone gunman. “The foreign fighters thing has nothing to do with that.”

With such attacks notoriously difficult to anticipate because of the challenge of assessing when mentally ill individuals are true threats, U.S. law enforcement has made a priority of tracking individuals known to have terrorist ties.

Last July, the Transport Security Agency enhanced security at U.S. points of entry and overseas points of departure. Now, said Homeland Security’s Johnson, he is considering further enhancements.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the CBS news program “Face the Nation” that lone wolf attacks are one of his great sources of concern.

“It’s something that frankly keeps me up at night worrying about the lone wolf, or a group of people, very small group of people who decide to get arms on their own and do what we saw in France this week,” he said.

 

European Jewish Congress calls for more security to protect institutions


The European Jewish Congress called on Belgium and other European Union member states to beef up security around Jewish institutions.

EJC President Moshe Kantor issued the call Monday as security professionals from Jewish communities across Europe gathered in the Belgian capital to drill for a scenario in which a car bomb explodes outside a synagogue.

Kantor as part of his call also said a mechanism must be put in place to ensure uniform policies to prevent and fight anti-Semitic violence.

The drill, which was scheduled months ago, was held three days after an Islamist killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris as part of a series of attacks in the French capital that left 17 people dead.

According to Kantor, the Belgian government has not yet allocated the $4 million it pledged in June to provide for additional security around Jewish institutions. The pledge was made several weeks after a gunman killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels; the museum was not under permanent police protection.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a French national who is believed to have fought with jihadists in Syria, is on trial for the murders,which he has denied committing.

“When even after a terrorist attack, the Belgian government still does not keep its promises to fund and beef up security on communities, this is a scarlet letter and a major lacuna that needs to be addressed immediately,” Kantor said.

He said he would bring up the issue with Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign relations and security chief, later this week.

“We are demanding more resources, but also a uniform policy for combating and preventing anti-Semitic violence because the gaps that exist within the union are playing to the advantage of the assailants,” he said.

In a statement issued directly after the Jan. 9 attack on a kosher supermarket in France, Belgium’s umbrella group of Jewish French-speaking communities, CCOJB, urged the government to take “concrete steps” to enhance security.

The Jewish community of Denmark also has called on the government to increase security around its institutions, the Danish Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday.

“It should be evident to the justice ministry and the police that there is a need for better protection,” Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, the president of the Jewish Congregation in Copenhagen, told the Berlingske daily on Monday. “Therefore, we demand that the authorities review the situation.”

In new Israeli elections, security issues returning to fore


This government was supposed to be different.

During the last election campaign in 2012, Israelis seemed to tire of the existential issues that have plagued the country for decades. Barely anyone talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Long-simmering social tensions over the rising cost of living and the economic burdens of the underemployed haredi Orthodox community were going to finally get their due.

The Knesset’s arrivistes — former television personality Yair Lapid and technology millionaire Naftali Bennett — swept into government by championing middle-class concerns. As members of the coalition, Bennett’s Jewish Home party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid worked on a number of social and economic initiatives, including efforts to lower dairy prices and curb growing housing costs.

Though Jewish Home vehemently opposed Palestinian statehood and Yesh Atid supported it, both agreed that haredi Orthodox men should be drafted into the army and integrated into the workforce.

Less than two years later, the partnership has broken up over the very issues that the parties had downplayed. Bickering over peace talks began in the spring and the shouts grew only louder after this summer’s war with Hamas. The recent crisis in American-Israeli relations further fanned the flames.

The rifts came to a head last week with the Cabinet’s adoption of the so-called nation-state law —  a measure to enshrine Israel’s Jewish character into law. Bennett supported the bill, while Lapid, the finance minister, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were opposed.

In announcing Tuesday that the coalition had faltered, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited three areas of disagreement: building in eastern Jerusalem, demanding Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character and maintaining a strong stance against Iran.

Netanyahu also singled out Lapid and Livni for their criticism of government policy after firing them from their Cabinet posts. The next government, the prime minister vowed, would be like the previous one — a stable coalition of hawkish, conservative parties.

Following the collapse of peace negotiations, the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers in June, the 50-day war in Gaza over the summer and the recent violence in Jerusalem — including the killing of four Jewish worshippers and a Druze policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue last month — politicians are focusing again on the issues that have always preoccupied them. After elections, now scheduled for March 17, everything old will become new again.

“The 2013 campaign was after relatively quiet years,” said Tal Schneider, author of the respected political website Plog. “Israel is not used to having such a length of time without any terror attacks. We’re back to normal, [but] last time it wasn’t on the agenda.”

Recent polls predict the elections will be good for parties on tיe far left and right that have made the Palestinian conflict their principal issue. Surveys show Jewish Home jumping from 12 to 16 seats, even 19, and the far-left Meretz, which went from three to six seats in the last election, rising to nine. Every survey shows Yesh Atid losing seats.

Meanwhile, Likud’s historic chief rival, the left-wing Labor party, has returned to its dovish roots, electing as chairman Isaac Herzog, a former corporate lawyer who strongly supports peace talks with the Palestinians. Herzog replaced Shelly Yachimovich, an assertive former journalist who stayed all but silent on the Palestinian issue in the 2013 elections.

And that shared agenda of integrating haredim into the army and workforce? The realities of parliamentary politics will almost definitely make that a thing of the past.

If he wins again in March, Netanyahu has vowed to ally again with haredi parties who seek to roll back the law passed earlier this year requiring some haredi men to serve in the army. Even a left-wing government would likely need haredi support to form a parliamentary majority.

Israelis, of course, still care about housing prices that have soared 80 percent since 2007 and growing income inequality. An as yet unnamed party founded to address those concerns, headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, is expected to draw plenty of votes.

But Israelis aren’t pitching tents on the street to protest economic policy as they did in 2011. This year, they have massed to support soldiers fighting in Gaza, pray for the kidnapped teens, oppose the nation-state law and protest the torching of a Jewish-Arab school.

“People vote by security,” Schneider said. “They may say in the polls that they’re more into the housing crisis, but it’s really never about the economy.”

Call for protest spurs Arab groom, Jewish-born bride to hire security for party


An Arab man and his Jewish-born bride hired 14 security guards for their wedding celebration in Israel in response to an anti-intermarriage Jewish group’s call for a protest rally at the hall.

Mahmoud Mansour, who is Muslim, and Morel Malka, who recently converted to Islam, reportedly are concerned for their safety at Sunday’s event in Rishon Lezion after the group, Lehava, posted photographs of their invitation on social media and urged protesters to rally outside the hall with megaphones and banners, the NRG news site reported.

Police said they will send personnel to the area to prevent any disturbance.

The couple is already legally married, according to Haaretz; the Sunday reception is merely a celebration. The groom’s parents and bride’s mother reportedly support the union.

Bentzi Gupstein, the chairman of Lehava, told NRG that his group was particularly upset about the wedding because of this summer’s escalation in tensions between Hamas and Israel.

“We are still at war and she is marrying a member of the enemy,” he said.

Mansour, of Jaffa, is an Israeli citizen. Gupstein said he was also angry that the wedding is taking place in Rishon Lezion, one of many cities targeted by rockets from Gaza this summer.

The father of the bride told Israel’s Channel 10 in an interview that he did not know about the relationship until recently and that he plans to boycott the wedding, the Times of Israel reported.

“I never dreamed that my daughter would marry an Arab,” he said. “I’m not going, period.”

The banquet hall management said several people have called to criticize the hall for hosting the event, while others have made threats, Haaretz reported.

Citing Brussels attack, Amsterdam ups security for Jewish centers


Following the slaying of four people at Brussels’ Jewish museum in May, the City of Amsterdam has decided to increase security around Jewish centers indefinitely.

The decision was based on the recommendation of the Dutch National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism and Security, or NCTV, the ANP news agency reported on Thursday. The Coordinator said in an advisory notice that there was no concrete intelligence on planned attacks, AP reported, but added that the May 24 murder of four people in Brussels shows “that such an attack is perceivable,” according to the NOS broadcaster.

Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard Edzard van der Laan said the extra security measures, which were not specified in Dutch media, will come in addition to existing security arrangements made by the Jewish community of Amsterdam, where most of the Netherlands’ 45,000 Jews live.

“It will increase the community’s security and ability to resist [attacks],” ANP quoted van der Laan as saying.

Dutch politicians and Jewish community representatives have lobbied for years for their government to increase security arrangements around Jewish institutions. The Jewish community of Amsterdam estimates its annual expenditure on security at just over $1 million.

Meanwhile, in the Belgian city of Antwerp, a spokesperson for the local police told the ATV channel that police will soon reduce security around Jewish institutions, which since the attack have been guarded by a special force of approximately 200 officers armed with machine guns.

“We can continue patrolling for a while longer, but not forever,” the spokesperson said Monday.

French police on May 30 arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national, whom Belgian and French authorities believe killed the four victims of the Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting in central Brussels, though he denies the allegations. French police said Nemmouche fought in Syria with jihdaists in 2013.

On Tuesday the museum reopened to the public for the first time since the attack, under heavy police surveillance, the news site 7sur7.be reported.

The following day, Belgium’s interior minister, Joelle Milquet, visited the museum with her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, to express solidarity with the Jewish community and extend their condolences for the dead — two of the museum’s staffers and two Israeli tourists.

 

Egyptian court orders Mubarak’s release


Ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak will leave jail as early as Thursday after a court ruling that jolted a divided nation already in turmoil seven weeks after the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

Mubarak will then be put under house arrest, the prime minister's office said in a statement. The decision was authorised under Egypt's Emergency Law recently enacted under a security crackdown on Islamists, it added.

Citing a security source, the state news agency said that Mubarak would “likely” be transported to one of the state's vital installations or one of two military hospitals where he will be guarded under heavy security.

By keeping Mubarak under house arrest, Egyptian leaders may be trying to show they will not be too lenient with him to avoid angering the many Egyptians who held mass protests that led to the end of his iron rule in 2011.

Two groups of activists have already called for sit-ins in Cairo to protest his expected release.

Convening on Wednesday at the Cairo jail where Mubarak is held, the court ordered the release of the military man who ruled Egypt for 30 years until he was overthrown during the uprisings that swept the Arab world in early 2011.

Asked when his client would go free, Mubarak's lawyer, Fareed al-Deeb, told Reuters, “Maybe tomorrow”.

Mubarak, 85, was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.

The ailing ex-president probably has no political future, but some Egyptians were indignant at the court ruling, which state prosecutor Ahmed el-Bahrawi said could not be appealed.

“The army has brought back Mubarak's regime, the same regime,” said Guma Abdel Alim outside a bicycle shop in central Cairo. “Those who were elected by the people are now in prison.”

He was referring to a wide-scale security sweep on Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood that has netted many of its leaders.

Shopworker Rubi Abdel Azim said Mubarak had been the worst ruler in Egypt's history, but a passerby in a worn-out shirt disagreed. “He was the greatest president,” said Nagi Hassan.

Political turbulence has kept Egypt on edge for months. At least 900 people, including 100 soldiers and police, have been killed in a crackdown on Mursi supporters in the past week, making it the country's bloodiest internal episode in decades.

Mubarak's release could add to tensions in a country where the Muslim Brotherhood has accused the army of trying to bring back the old government.

“Today there was a decision to release him. Naturally that will cause a backlash in large segments in the Egyptian street,” said analyst Adel Soliman.

'LOUSY REGIME'

The Brotherhood has said it would never abandon efforts to restore Mursi to power, although a fierce state security crackdown appears to have hurt the group. In the past week, it has struggled to get people on the streets to protest.

Mursi's supporters called on Egyptians to hold “Friday of Martyrs” protests against the military takeover that ousted him.

A grouping calling itself the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, which has been demanding Mursi's reinstatement, said in a statement, “We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the military coup.”

The United States and the European Union are both reviewing aid to Cairo in light of the bloodshed, but Saudi Arabia, a foe of the Brotherhood, has promised to make up any shortfall.

The European Union stopped short of agreeing immediate cuts in financial or military assistance to Cairo, as the bloc's foreign ministers held emergency talks on Wednesday to find ways to help end violence in Egypt.

The decision acknowledges Europe's limited economic muscle in forcing Egypt's army-backed rulers and Mursi's supporters into a peaceful compromise.

It also reflects a concern that abruptly cutting aid could shut off dialogue with Cairo's military rulers and damage Europe's ability to mediate in any future negotiations to end the strife.

Egypt has said repeatedly it does not want foreign powers to interfere in its standoff with the Brotherhood.

“Egypt can never accept an interference in its sovereignty or the independence of its decisions or an interference in its internal affairs,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said in a statement issued after the EU talks.

“The only standard that rules Egypt's decisions is the supreme interest of the country and its national security.”

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling on Mubarak from the Brotherhood, whose leaders are mostly behind bars.

Mubarak is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt against him, but he has already served the maximum pretrial detention in that case.

The court ruling removed the last legal ground for his imprisonment in connection with a corruption case, following a similar decision in another corruption case on Monday. Mubarak will not be allowed to leave Egypt and his assets remain frozen.

Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, along with former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, are still in prison, and Adly's lawyer said the ruling on Mubarak had no bearing on their cases.

Some of the liberal and secular politicians who backed the army's ousting of Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected president, on July 3, said they regretted Mubarak's release but that the judiciary's decision should be respected.

“His regime was lousy and he destroyed the country,” said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, to which the army-appointed interim prime minister belongs.

Noting Mubarak's age and the jail time he has served, he said, “We should focus on building the country, establishing democracy and finishing the problem of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The government knows that if Mubarak is freed, there will be public outrage, but a court decision is a court decision.”

Khaled Dawoud, spokesman of the liberal Dostour Party, said the trials of the ex-president and his associates had all been flawed because the judiciary was ill-equipped to deal with cases related to Mubarak's rule, resulting in a series of acquittals.

“It was a faulty process from the beginning,” he said.

The relatively muted response from Mubarak's non-Islamist opponents may reflect a reluctance to rock the boat following the army's removal of Mursi, which they had endorsed.

The generals say they were responding to the will of the people after vast demonstrations organised by liberals and leftists demanding Mursi's ouster. They have installed an interim administration to oversee a road map back to democracy.

'TARNISHED IMAGE'

The authorities now portray their quarrel with the Brotherhood, Egypt's best-organised political force, as a fight against terrorism and are jailing its leaders. They detained the group's “general guide”, Mohamed Badie, in Cairo on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which along with Kuwait have promised Egypt $12 billion in aid since Mursi's ouster, have frowned on Mubarak's detention all along. Arab diplomats said the conservative Gulf monarchies had lobbied for the release of a man they once valued as a strong regional ally.

Mubarak's jailing and trial, when he appeared in a courtroom cage, also affronted some Egyptian officers. One colonel, who asked not to be named, said the treatment of the former supreme military commander had “tarnished the army's image”.

Lobna Moneib, spokeswoman of the leftist Popular Current movement, said the court ruling posed a problem. “We think he is guilty and have called for him to be tried by revolutionary courts,” she said, advocating such trials for all Mubarak-era officials as well as for Mursi and his Brotherhood colleagues.

The United States, a close ally of Egypt since Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, said on Tuesday that the crackdown on protesters could influence U.S. aid. It denied reports it had already suspended assistance.

At issue is the future of about $1.23 billion in U.S. military assistance and $241 million in economic aid to Egypt.

Western nations were uneasy during Mursi's year in power, when he rammed through an Islamist-tinged constitution.

Washington has not denounced the army takeover as a “coup”, which under U.S. law would force a suspension of aid. The ensuing bloodshed, however, has dismayed the West.

U.S. Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee, said on Wednesday, “The slaughter of hundreds of Egyptians in the street is appalling to all of us.”

He said U.S. aid should be conditioned on a change in the constitution and scheduling of elections as soon as possible. “The present government is representative of no one,” he said.

The arrest of Badie, the Brotherhood's leader, is part of a wave of detentions among the upper echelons of the organisation.

Murad Ali, a media adviser to the Brotherhood's political party, and Safwat Hegazy, a fiery preacher, were arrested while trying to flee the country, state media reported on Wednesday.

The Brotherhood said the crackdown would prove futile.

“The putschists think that arresting the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and marring their image in the media will make Egyptians bow and give in to the coup,” it said.

“They have killed thousands, wounded thousands, arrested thousands but the (people) are continuing in their peaceful revolution, rejecting the coup and military rule.”

Additional reporting by Cairo bureau, Justyna Pawlak and John O'Donnell in Brussels, Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Michael Georgy, Will Waterman, Alastair Macdonald and Peter Cooney

With Islamic groups replacing traditional foes, Israel faces long-term instability on its borders


Three weeks ago, militants in Gaza landed a rocket near the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Two weeks ago, Egypt raised its state of emergency in the Sinai Peninsula, warning of an increase in jihadist activity there.

Last week, a rock thrown by a West Bank Palestinian critically wounded a 3-year-old Israeli girl.

And this week, Israel plans to ask the United States for support should it strike Syrian weapons convoys en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Along both its northern and southern frontiers, Israel faces more political instability than it has in decades — conditions that some security experts fear could open a door to greater terrorism.

The upheavals of the Arab Spring may have reduced the threat of a conventional war with a neighboring state, but the prospects for peaceful borders — let alone full normalization with the Arab world — have dimmed, forcing Israeli military planners to prepare for long-term uncertainty.

“For the first time in decades, we have four active borders that have terror activities: Lebanon, Syria, Sinai and Gaza,” said Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the director of military intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces. “The change that’s happening is deep and foundational. The central characteristic of this change, even if it seems banal, is instability and uncertainty.”

Kochavi was speaking last week at the Herzliya Conference, an elite policy and security gathering dominated this year by concerns about terrorist activity on Israel’s frontiers. Kochavi said terrorists are “filling the vacuum” of unstable states. While the consequences have been minimal, officials say the danger of an attack is growing.

“Not a week goes by, not to say hardly a day, when I don’t have to deal with an issue that you didn’t even hear about, that could have resulted in a strategic threat,” IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told the conference.

Of particular concern to defense officials is the Syrian border, beyond which a civil war has been raging for two years — one that is threatening to spill over. Israel has begun building a fence on the perimeter of the Golan Heights and in January bombed a weapons convoy it feared was being shipped from Syria to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon.

The possibility that Syrian arms, including stockpiles of chemical weapons, could wind up in the hands of terrorist groups is among the primary security concerns facing Israel. But the threats go deeper.

As secular strongmen have vanished from the stage — first in Egypt, and potentially in Syria — Islamists are rising in their place. It's a development that could recast the Arab-Israeli conflict in religious rather than geopolitical terms.

“We’re seeing a decline in national identity and a rise in religious identity” in the Arab world, said Dan Meridor, Israel’s outgoing minister of intelligence. “The old paradigm of war is changing its face.”

On the whole, religiously inspired terrorist groups can be difficult to deter. Generally they are less susceptible to diplomatic pressure than nation states. And unlike the dictators they appear to be replacing, the groups enjoy more popular support.

“We used to have three or four enemies,” Meridor said. “Now we have 10,000 or 20,000. Our enemies are greater and are not necessarily states. How do you deter a group that’s not a state?”

Beyond the problem of deterrence is the question of victory. Israel's recent skirmishes with terrorist groups — notably its 2006 war against Hezbollah and its 2009 and 2012 campaigns against Hamas in Gaza — have led to something closer to stalemate than the decisive victories achieved in past conventional wars.

Lurking behind a few of the non-state actors, though, is a state with which Israelis have become all too familiar: Iran. The Islamic Republic is Hezbollah’s primary funder and one of the few remaining allies of the teetering Assad regime in Syria.

Kochavi said that Iran and Hezbollah have organized an army of 50,000 in Syria and are trying to increase their influence there.

“Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad’s regime,” Kochavi said. “Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad’s fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria.”

Experts said that in the face of four insecure borders, Israel’s best bet is to stay alert and hang tough. But Danny Rothschild, director of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya’s Institute of Policy and Strategy, told the conference that Israel needs to be proactive in directing the Middle East toward peace and prosperity.

“Israel needs to be more involved in shaping the future of the region, even in a quiet way,” he said. “I have a feeling events will make it deal with issues, even if it hasn’t intended to.”

Oren says ‘Gatekeepers’ makes his job harder


Israel's U.S. ambassador,  Michael Oren, said the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” complicates his mission.

The movie compiles interviews with six former leaders of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, and records their perceptions of how successive Israeli governments missed opportunities for peace.

“This is a good movie that presents a narrative of 45 years of occupation but is completely devoid of information on Israel's peace plan offers — (Ehud) Barak's Camp David attempts, then [Ehud] Olmert, from the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the rocket fire on us,” Oren told Ynet in a story posted Sunday. “Whoever views the movie without knowing the background can leave feeling that Israel is to blame and didn't do a thing.”

Oren said he hesitated to criticize the movie for fear of being attacked as limiting speech freedoms, but added that he felt that Israel was “on the defensive” in its effort to explain its right to exist.

Spy agencies say cyber attacks leading threat against U.S.


U.S. intelligence leaders said for the first time on Tuesday that cyber attacks and cyber espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States.

That stark assessment, in an annual “worldwide threat” briefing that covered concerns as diverse as North Korea's belligerence and Syria's civil war, was reinforced in remarks by the spy chiefs before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

They expressed concern that computer technology is evolving so quickly it is hard for security experts to keep up.

“In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks,” James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told the committee.

In written testimony, Clapper softened his analysis somewhat, playing down the likelihood of catastrophic attacks on the United States in the near term – either through digital technologies, or from foreign or domestic militants employing traditional violence.

But this year's annual threat briefing underscored how, a decade after the Iraq war began and nearly two years after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, digital assaults on government and computer networks have supplanted earlier security fears.

On Monday, White House national security adviser Tom Donilon, citing complaints from U.S. businesses about alleged Chinese cyber espionage, said the issue is a growing challenge to economic relations between the United States and China.

China said on Tuesday it was willing to meet Donilon's request that Beijing talk with the United States about cyber security.

ECONOMIC COSTS

Last month, a private U.S. computer security company issued a study accusing a secretive Chinese military unit of being behind hacking attacks on a wide range of American industries.

China has denied such reports, and says it is a victim of cyber spying by the U.S. government.

The annual economic loss from cyber attacks is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

In a separate hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services committee, Army General Keith Alexander, head of the U.S. military's Cyber Command, said cyber attacks on private companies and in particular on the U.S. banking sector were getting worse. He predicted that the intensity and number of attacks will grow significantly throughout the year.

Alexander said the military was beefing up its cyber warrior team, adding troops from across the military as well as civilians. He said there would be three teams: a Cyber National Mission force which will deploy teams to defend against national-level threats; a Cyber Combat Mission force in charge of operational control; and a Cyber Protection force which will defend the military's information systems.

The goal is to add the new resources to the teams by the end of 2015, but one third of them are planned to be in place by this September.

BUDGET CUTS

Clapper also used Tuesday's Intelligence Committee hearing to give an alarming account of how U.S. intelligence capabilities will be damaged if Congress does not move to ease financial pressures caused by automatic across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

Due to funding cutbacks, thousands of FBI employees could face furloughs, five thousand intelligence contractors could be terminated, cyber security efforts could be affected and older overhead intelligence collection systems – spy satellites – could face cutbacks, he said.

Intelligence agencies at a minimum want Congress to give them the authority to redistribute cuts among programs “to minimize the damage,” he said.

Clapper presented to the Senate panel a 34-page paper that ran through a wide variety of threats covered by U.S. intelligence agencies, from continuing Middle East instability to what is predicted to be China's continuing domination of the world's supply of rare earth elements.

On two of the most volatile global crisis points, the U.S. spy agencies' assessment was restrained.

While Iran is improving its expertise in technologies including uranium enrichment and ballistic missiles, which could be used in a nuclear weapons program, the intelligence community does not believe Iran's leadership has decided to build a nuclear weapon and does not know if or when it might do so.

This assessment is consistent with a controversial 2007 finding, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded Tehran had “halted its nuclear weapons program” in fall 2003 and had not restarted it as of mid-2007, although it was keeping open the option of building nuclear weapons.

SYRIA

On Syria, U.S. spy agencies assessed that the erosion of the government of President Bashar al-Assad's ability to defend itself is accelerating.

Assad's forces have stopped insurgents from seizing cities such as Aleppo, Damascus and Homs, but the agencies say insurgents have been gaining strength in rural areas. This could ultimately lead to the establishment of a “more permanent base” for the rebels in Idlib province along the border with Turkey.

The listing of cyber-related attacks as the top item in the annual threat assessment is a departure from assessments offered previously. In 2011 and 2012, the first threat listed in the agencies' annual assessment to Congress was terrorism.

Editing by Warren Strobel, Xavier Briand and Todd Eastham

Suicide bomber kills guard at U.S. embassy in Turkey


A far-leftist suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard at the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday, officials said, blowing open an entrance and sending debris flying through the air.

The attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body after entering an embassy gatehouse. The blast could be heard a mile away. A lower leg and other human remains lay on the street.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the bomber was a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a far-left group which is virulently anti-U.S. and anti-NATO and is listed as a terrorist organization by Washington.

The White House said the suicide attack was an “act of terror” but that the motivation was unclear. U.S. officials said the DHKP-C were the main suspects but did not exclude other possibilities.

Islamist radicals, extreme left-wing groups, ultra-nationalists and Kurdish militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past. There was no claim of responsibility.

“The suicide bomber was ripped apart and one or two citizens from the special security team passed away,” said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

“This event shows that we need to fight together everywhere in the world against these terrorist elements,” he said.

Turkish media reports identified the bomber as DHKP-C member Ecevit Sanli, who was involved in attacks on a police station and a military staff college in Istanbul in 1997.

KEY ALLY

Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East with common interests ranging from energy security to counter-terrorism and has been one of the leading advocates of foreign intervention to end the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Around 400 U.S. soldiers have arrived in Turkey over the past few weeks to operate Patriot anti-missile batteries meant to defend against any spillover of Syria's civil war, part of a NATO deployment due to be fully operational in the coming days.

The DHKP-C was responsible for the assassination of two U.S. military contractors in the early 1990s in protest against the first Gulf War and launched rockets at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 1992, according to the U.S. State Department.

Deemed a terrorist organization by both the United States and Turkey, the DHKP-C has been blamed for suicide attacks in the past, including one in 2001 that killed two police officers and a tourist in Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

The group, formed in 1978, has carried out a series of deadly attacks on police stations in the last six months.

The attack may have come in retaliation for an operation against the DHKP-C last month in which Turkish police detained 85 people. A court subsequently remanded 38 of them in custody over links to the group.

“HUGE EXPLOSION”

U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone emerged through the main gate of the embassy shortly after the explosion to address reporters, flanked by a security detail as a Turkish police helicopter hovered overhead.

“We're very sad of course that we lost one of our Turkish guards at the gate,” Ricciardone said, describing the victim as a “hero” and thanking Turkish authorities for a prompt response.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the attack on the checkpoint on the perimeter of the embassy and said several U.S. and Turkish staff were injured by debris.

“The level of security protection at our facility in Ankara ensured that there were not significantly more deaths and injuries than there could have been,” she told reporters.

It was the second attack on a U.S. mission in four months. On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American personnel were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The attack in Benghazi, blamed on al Qaeda-affiliated militants, sparked a political furor in Washington over accusations that U.S. missions were not adequately safeguarded.

A well-known Turkish journalist, Didem Tuncay, who was on her way in to the embassy to meet Ricciardone when the attack took place, was in a critical condition in hospital.

“It was a huge explosion. I was sitting in my shop when it happened. I saw what looked like a body part on the ground,” said travel agent Kamiyar Barnos, whose shop window was shattered around 100 meters away from the blast.

CALL FOR VIGILANCE

The U.S. consulate in Istanbul warned its citizens to be vigilant and to avoid large gatherings, while the British mission in Istanbul called on British businesses to tighten security after what it called a “suspected terrorist attack”.

In 2008, Turkish gunmen with suspected links to al Qaeda, opened fire on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish policemen. The gunmen died in the subsequent firefight.

The most serious bombings in Turkey occurred in November 2003, when car bombs shattered two synagogues, killing 30 people and wounding 146. Part of the HSBC Bank headquarters was destroyed and the British consulate was damaged in two more explosions that killed 32 people less than a week later. Authorities said those attacks bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Mohammed Arshad and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Stephen Powell

Netanyahu responds to Obama: Israelis will determine country’s best interests


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to comments attributed to President Obama, saying that Israelis will determine the country's best interests.

“Only the Israeli people will determine who best represents the State of Israel's vital interests,” Netanyahu reportedly said Wednesday during a visit to the Gaza Division of the Israel Defense Forces.

“Over the past four years Israel has withstood tremendous diplomatic pressures. They insisted that we curb our demand for action on Iran; that we withdraw back to the 1967 lines; that we divide Jerusalem – that we stop building in Jerusalem. We fought against those pressures. I will continue to safeguard Israel's vital interests, for its security,” the prime minister, whose party stands poised to take the most Knesset seats in next week's election, said.

The comments came a day after a column by Jeffrey Goldberg for Bloomberg stated that when Obama was told that the Israeli government had approved plans to advance the development of housing in the controversial E-1 corridor between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, “Obama said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.’ With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.”

Violence in Eastern Congo is our problem


We’re staring down the barrel of another full-scale war in Congo. The M23 rebellion, launched in March 2012, last week stormed and seized Goma, a crucial town in eastern Congo. The M23 rebels already had been responsible for the displacement of more than half a million civilians — another 60,000 civilians have been newly displaced in the last week alone. While it might appear that the M23 rebels are retreating to the outskirts of Goma, they have made it clear that they will continue to administer and control Goma until their demands are met. 

The success of the siege is likely due in part to the support of the rebels by outside influences, namely elements within the Rwandan and Ugandan governments and militaries. The last time Congo saw this level of foreign incursion, the chain of events that followed led to the deaths of 5.4 million innocent civilians. This is what the beginning of horror looks like.

On the surface it may seem that our political leaders and the international community may be responding quickly to the crisis. But the reaction by both the Obama administration and the United Nations Security Council threatens to rehash old, failed “solutions” that set Congo on the path to repeat its cycle of violence. In particular, our political officials seem to be pursuing a policy of accommodation and protection of Rwanda, to the detriment of the development of sustainable solutions in Congo. 

Guilt over past horrors — the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in particular — might be clouding the judgment of the very people with the power to change international policies towards Congo.  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, along with her former boss, President Bill Clinton, has carried the burden of inaction in Rwanda since those fateful 100 days that saw the murder of more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis. And that guilt has translated into consistent support for and protection of Rwanda’s leader, President Paul Kagame, credited with ending the genocide and restoring security to Rwanda. 

But our protection of Rwanda and its leadership can go no further. While advocates have long suspected Rwanda’s complicity in the exploitation of Congolese minerals and its support of proxy militias in Congo, we now have proof: two separate U.N. Group of Experts reports on Congo published this year have pointed to significant support to the M23 rebels by Rwanda and Uganda. The latest report, leaked earlier this month, named Gen. James Kabarebe, the Rwandan Minister of Defense, as sitting at the top of the M23’s chain of command.  

Despite this clear evidence, the Obama administration’s own statement condemning the M23 rebels, while swift, failed to call out Rwanda or Uganda for their role in the crisis. And the U.N. Security Council resolution passed last week similarly failed to explicitly name Rwanda or Uganda as supporting the M23 or expand targeted sanctions against Rwandan and Ugandan officials despite evidence that they had violated the arms embargo in eastern Congo. Rwanda and Uganda were, by all accounts, protected in the Security Council by the U.S. mission.  

Rwanda receives nearly 45 percent of its budget from Western donor countries like the United States — roughly $1 billion in aid annually. That is a lot of leverage that we could be using to bring about constructive negotiations that lead to long-term, regional solutions to this conflict. Instead, we are frittering away our political capital. 

The U.S. government must change tack and immediately: 1) push the U.N. mission in Congo to protect civilians against rape and pillage; 2) through the U.N. Security Council, expand targeted sanctions against all officials and parties that are blocking peace — from M23, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda; and 3) immediately appoint a special envoy to work with an African Union-/U.N.-appointed mediator to begin a real peace process that addresses both the immediate crisis and the underlying longer-term economic and political interests of the parties.

We bystanders should feel guilty for our silence and inaction during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  But the value of guilt is limited to its power to inform and shape future behaviors. When President Obama was Sen. Obama, he wrote and passed a single bill: the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006. Ending the crisis in Congo was important to him then; it must return to his list of priorities now. He, and all members of his administration, must not signal to Congo’s invaders that the United States will continue an acquiescent policy moving forward.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik is co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch.

Security could intimidate, so Sinai Temple moves polling places outdoors


Polling places often move around from year to year, but normally not on Election Day itself, as happened to the polls at Sinai Temple this year.

On Nov. 6, when the day began, 14 booths were positioned inside the West Coast’s largest and oldest Conservative synagogue. But after two trained volunteers, working with Election Protection, a nonpartisan election-monitoring organization, reported that the synagogue’s security guards were, as they do every day, using metal detector wands to screen each person entering the building, poll workers relocated the booths to a fenced-in courtyard outside the Temple, just off Wilshire Boulevard.

“It can be intimidating,” said Brian Link, one of the volunteers, said, explaining why the polling places had to be moved to comply with election law.

A second volunteer, Melody Chen, in 2008 had volunteered with Election Protection in Charlotte, N.C. She staffed a hotline that year, similar to one she and Link called Tuesday morning to report security procedures at Sinai Temple.

In North Carolina four years ago, Chen said, “there was one polling place where every African-American voter was told that their registration was not valid.

“It just blows your mind, in this day and age,” she added.

Nobody appears to have been turned away from the polls at Sinai Temple, Link said, but there was a bit of commotion when one voter set off the metal detector.

The offending item: a pocketknife.

“It got a little weird,” Link said, noting that it took some consultation with multiple members of the security personnel before the voter was allowed to enter. “But it all turned out OK.”

Moving the polls out of doors required some flexibility on the part of voters. Voters in wheelchairs had to be dropped off on a side street and then transported along the sidewalk into the polling place; once inside the fenced-in area, they had limited room to maneuver, leading one older man to consider casting a provisional ballot at one station because the pathway to the other was a bit cramped. He eventually cast his ballot at his designated polling place.

A few synagogue security guards were positioned outside the polling place; others were seen carrying walkers for handicapped voters, and they appeared to be cooperating with election workers.

Around 11 a.m., Tommy Brown, a 14-year veteran staff member with the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder, was affixing additional signs directing voters away from the synagogue’s main entrance on Beverly Glen and toward the relocated polling station around the corner. He said he would position lights and portable heaters near the tables to insure the six volunteers monitoring polls wouldn’t get too cold after nightfall.

Sinai

Tommy Brown, who works for the Los Angeles County registrar, was assigned to redirect voters to the relocated polling place at Sinai Temple on Nov. 6.

“If anybody’s not comfortable, we’ll probably bring out some County workers to man the polls,” Brown said.

But on this unseasonably warm Election Day morning, shaded from the sun by the large synagogue building, voters didn’t seem to notice – or care about — the change in location.

Walter Dishell, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple who came with his wife and daughter to the polls, remembered that the polling places had been inside the Sinai Temple building the year before.

A Republican, Dishell downplayed any intimidation a security measure might cause.

“That wouldn’t have bothered me, and I’m more than willing to show my license,” said Dishell, referring to new laws being passed in some states requiring voters to show a valid photo ID in order to vote. Republicans advocate such laws as a way to combat voter fraud; Democrats see such measures as potentially disenfranchising low-income and elderly voters who may be less likely to have photo ID.

“I just heard my daughter say that they still had the woman who lived in the apartment before her on the voter rolls,” Dishell added. “She hasn’t lived there for seven years. That concerns me.”

But the voters out at the polls – Dishell included – seemed rather cheerful, even if they didn’t know how the election would turn out.

“I’m standing here, and I’m just as uncertain as I’ve been for the last few days,” Ronald Leibow said shortly after casting his ballot. “If I had to put a penny on one side of the line or the other, I’m assuming Obama will win, but if it goes the other way, I won’t be surprised.”

Moments after Leibow left the courtyard, a class of 19 four-year-olds from Sinai Akiba walked in. Their three teachers had escorted them out the door of the building and around the corner in order to view the polling place.

The kids had conducted a mock election in their classroom earlier in the day, one of the teachers said.

“Oreos or Chips Ahoy,” she said. “I don’t know who won. We haven’t counted the votes yet.” 

Israel to host homeland security conference


Delegates from more than 50 countries will gather in Tel Aviv for a homeland security conference.

Cyber security, critical infrastructure protection and emergency management will be the focus of the Nov. 11-14 International Conference for Homeland Security, according to Israel 21c.

Homeland security officials, police chiefs, heads of intelligence organizations and leaders of companies in various security fields and other defense specialists are expected to attend and network.

Speakers include Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak; Tom Ridge, former U.S. Homeland Security secretary; Claude Baland, director general of the national police in France; and the security heads for the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games in Brazil. Heads of the Atlanta and Chicago police departments also are expected to participate.

About 60 Israeli companies will make presentations on homeland security solutions during the conference.

Topics scheduled to be covered include: securing transportation hubs, cyber warfare, how to go from collecting data to acting on decisions, safe cities and the challenges of holding mega events.

The event is organized by the nonprofit Israel Export Institute in cooperation with several Israeli government ministries.

This is the second International Conference for Homeland Security held in Israel. The first was in 2010, when about 500 officials representing 30 countries attended.

Danish Jews angered by request not to display Israeli flag


The organizers of a Copenhagen event celebrating diversity asked Danish Jews refrain from displaying the Israeli flag “for security reasons.”

The request came during preparations for the city-sponsored Mangfoldigheds festival held early last month, according to the Copenhagen-born Jonas Herzberg Karpantschof, former chairman of the European Union of Jewish Students.

The Danish Zionist Federation displayed the Israeli flags despite the requests. Several verbal confrontations occurred in front of the federation’s stand but they did not escalate into physical violence, Karpantschof wrote in a report for the website of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jews. Karpantschof said that “in reality, it [the request] was an attempt to block the group’s participation.”

Other groups also displayed country flags at the event, the Copenhagen Post reported, and had not been asked to refrain from displaying them.

One of the event organizers, Pernille Kjeldgaard, told the Post, “It is not that there is a flag policy. Specific associations were asked not to display their flags as a safety precaution.” His group, TaskForce Inklusion, had been tasked by the municipality to organize parts of the event.

Max Meyer, head of the Danish Zionist Federation, was quoted as saying, “It is a shame that one group is discriminated against, especially at a diversity celebration.”

In the festival, participants were supposed to offer visitors food and culture connected with their ethnicity. The festival featured a Kurdish stall and three Palestinian organizations, Meyer wrote. Jews, Muslims and Christians shared one stall at the event.

It was the first time that the Danish Zionist Federation participated in the festival.