NEW YORK (Jul. 31)
Jewish institutions throughout the world have gone on a high state of alert in the wake of recent terrorist bombings in Buenos Aires and London.
From New York to Los Angeles, from Paris to Sydney, Australia, Israeli embassies and consulates as well as local Jewish community organizations have been meeting with police officials to work out security arrangements in an effort to prevent any further attacks on Jewish targets.
The precautions seek to prevent a recurrence of the July 18 car bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that claimed the lives of about 100 people and left more than 200 wounded.
Two bombings in London that occurred one week later within a 12-hour period on July 26 and 27 — the first striking at the Israeli Embassy, the second targeting the offices of the Joint Israel Appeal — gave added impetus to the implementation of tightly drawn security at Jewish institutions throughout the world.
While no suspects have yet been captured, it is widely believed that responsibility for the bombings rests with Islamic fundamentalist groups opposed to Israel’s peace initiatives with its Arab neighbors.
A day after the second London bombing, police in New York oversaw the erection of concrete barriers outside the Israeli Consulate and the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.
The barriers were an immediate response to threats made against the Israeli institutions. Security was also tightened at more than a dozen other New York locations where Israelis or Jewish groups maintain offices.
In addition, city and state police leaders held a meeting July 28 in New York with representatives of 100 Jewish organizations to discuss implementing stringent protective measures to foil any attempted terrorist attacks.
Representatives of the Port Authority of New York were also present to discuss security measures at points of entrance and exit from the city, and to provide assurances that protection would be kept at a maximum at all facilities of Israel’s El Al Airlines.
Michael Miller, the executive director of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, said he was very impressed by the turnout of 100 separate groups on just 24 hours’ notice and by the sense of cooperation on the security matter.
“The group was very, very broad. It was really very, very grass-roots oriented, with people from Crown Heights and Williamsburg, Queens neighborhoods, the major Israel/Jewish-related organizations, including members of the JCRC and others,” he said.
Miller said security was “already stepped up and will be even more tightened” in the New York area where Jewish organizations are based.
He referred the participants at the meeting to a security alert the JCRC issued two weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center.
‘EVERYBODY IS VERY CONCERNED’
Measures listed on the alert included surveillance of visitors, mail and packages; the need to provide employee education on security measures; and the importance of engaging in police liaison work.
At the state level, Suri Kassirer, Gov. Mario Cuomo’s special representative to the Jewish community, said the governor was paying great attention to security needs at Jewish and Israeli sites. “The governor spoke to the Israeli consul general. Everybody is very concerned” about providing adequate security, she said.
Miller said that last week “there was a meeting between the top police brass and the borough commanders. The commanders are supposed to be contacting their precinct commanders to report back to the chiefs regarding the monitoring of the Jewish communities within their districts.”
He added that the July 28 meeting between Jewish and city officials “was an important symbol that the city administration and the police have an abiding concern for all New Yorkers and especially for Jewish New Yorkers during this period of difficulty and stress.”
In Los Angeles, police have been patrolling Jewish institutions more frequently and in greater strength, according to Rabbi Gary Greenebaum of the American Jewish Committee. Greenebaum is a member and immediate past president of the Los Angeles Police Commission.
At the central Jewish community building, which houses the Jewish Federation Council, its agencies and other Jewish organizations, added security measures were implemented following a meeting of the groups’ leadership.
As a result of the new measures, no one will be allowed to park in front of the building, employees and visitors will have to wear clear identifications, and police will maintain a constant surveillance, said Gary Wexler, the federation’s communications director.
The federation and the Anti-Defamation League are planning security seminars for Jewish institutions to reinforce instructions first issued during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
At the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, “we’re geared for perimeter security,” said the organization’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
He urged American Jews to “signal to terrorists that if they want to get at Israel through the Diaspora, this will backfire.”
The Buenos Aires and London bombings have also prompted Jewish community leaders in locations throughout the world to take added security measures.
Reports from Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia indicate that Israeli and local Jewish centers have been working closely with government authorities to prevent any further terrorist bombings.
‘NO SECURITY CAN BE 100 PERCENT TIGHT’
In France, Jean Kahn, the head of CRIF, the umbrella organization representing French Jewish organizations, met last week with the head of the Paris police force and with an assistant to Interior Minister Charles Pasqua to discuss additional security at Jewish locations.
“The French authorities are doing their best to prevent any problem,” Kahn said in an interview. “But no security can be 100 percent tight.”
Kahn called on all French Jewish organizations and synagogues to ask their members to be on the alert and not to assemble outside buildings and synagogues once meetings or prayers are over.
In Latin America, where Jewish communities are feeling particularly vulnerable in the wake of the Buenos Aires attack, Jewish leaders are consulting with government officials to ensure maximum protection against any future attacks.
Adding to fears in the region was last month’s downing of a Panamanian commuter plane, in which 12 of the 21 victims were Jewish. Islamic fundamentalists claimed responsibility for the bomb that caused the plane crash, but it is still uncertain whether the attack was politically motivated or linked to Colombian drug dealers.
In Brazil, Israel Levin, president of the country’s Jewish Federation, met with a state security official on the same day that the Buenos Aires attack took place. Since that time, there has been police protection in every location where Jews gather.
There are more than 40 organizations and institutions being watched, according to Alberto Milkewitz, institutional director of the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo. There have been no threats or incidents in Brazil, but just as in other locations throughout the world, there is much fear within the community.
As Milkewitz put it, “We don’t know when, where, who is the enemy. We don’t know how to deal with a war that is not a war.”
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Tom Tugend in Los Angeles, Michel Di Paz in Paris and Rochelle Saidel in Sao Paulo.)