SYDNEY, Australia (Jan. 14)
Synagogues and Jewish institutions in Australia are going to lose insurance coverage against terrorism.
As policies come up for renewal, they will be subject to a blanket clause excluding terrorist attacks. The devastation of the Sept. 11 terror attacks prompted insurers to stop offering this type of coverage.
Following the insurers’ move, the Insurance Council of Australia appealed to the Australian government to underwrite a $1 billion fund to cover the costs of claims should an organization suffer a terrorist attack.
A spokesperson for the ICA, Sandy Watson, told JTA that the new clause excluding terror attacks from coverage “will be a blanket exclusion.”
“There is no question of any exceptions,” Watson said. “Following the $50 billion estimated losses relating to New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, it is now impossible for reinsurers to even assess the costs of coverage.”
Jewish groups in Australia are concerned about the change.
“I have already been approached by many synagogues and communal leaders,” said Graham Leonard, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria. “We will do the best we can to try to ensure some sort of coverage.”
Sen. Helen Coonan, Australia’s deputy treasurer and federal minister for revenue, said the government is “presently considering its options and initial reports are due soon. There is no way this will be put on a back-burner.”
Kym Bennett, a spokesman for the Britain-based insurance company EIG Andsvar, which specializes in insuring religious institutions, told JTA: “We are trying to get a global standard organized. For the moment, it will have to be up to each company to assess each case.”
The change in coverage apparently will not affect acts of vandalism.
“At least there has been some form of demarcation decided,” Watson said. “We now define acts of vandalism as being willful damage, while terrorism falls into the category of being politically motivated.”
That, at least, is a relief for the Jewish community. In the 12-month period ending in October, there were 361 anti-Semitic attacks, a record in Australia. One person was hospitalized.
In one arson case, tallitot were found tied together on the floor of a Sydney shul to serve as a fuse that would spread fire throughout the Bondi synagogue. Though the building suffered extensive damage, the tallises did not catch fire and the main building was saved.
In another incident in Canberra, Molotov cocktails were hurled through the windows of the Jewish Centre Synagogue while 120 people played Trivial Pursuit inside. Damage was minimal.
“All Australia’s individual centers have to bear the costs of their own security, which has seen shul and Jewish day school fees rise dramatically,” said Jeremy Jones, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. “As we do not know who carried out these attacks and, therefore, their reasons, we can only place the attacks in the category of being anti-Semitic vandalism, and not terrorism.”