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Mugging in Washington Robs Jewish World of Young Leader

July 12, 2006
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The killers who took Alan Senitt’s life robbed the Jewish world of a young leader dedicated to Jewish survival and coexistence with others, his friends, colleagues and family said. Senitt, 27, a rising star in British communal life and Labor Party politics, was stabbed to death in Washington while escorting a young woman friend home before dawn Sunday.

“He was right at the center, a key up-and-coming young leader,” said Danny Stone, a friend who succeeded Senitt last month as director of the Co-Existence Trust, a London-based group that fosters Jewish-Muslim relations worldwide. “He was very valuable, seen as someone who would be heading up the community in the future.”

London’s Jewish Chronicle in 2003 said of him, “There is, it has to be said, something of the Tony Blair about Alan Senitt.”

Senitt emerged as an eloquent spokesman for Britain’s Jews and on behalf of Israel as chairman of the Union of Jewish Students in the early part of the decade, a time when the intifada was raging and Israel was taking a drubbing in British public opinion.

Leaving the Union of Jewish Students post in 2003, he urged Jewish students to speak as “one community, one voice, one people,” and signed his open letter, “Proud to be a Zionist, proud to be a Jew.

Most of all, he told the Jewish Chronicle in 2003, he loved nurturing a sense of belonging among his fellow Jewish students.

“The thing that touches me the most is seeing the people who have come up through the Union of Jewish Students system,” he told the Chronicle.

His legacy lives on, the current UJS chairman said.

“Alan will be remembered with a smile on his face, as someone who valued the opinion of youth and cared deeply about the British Jewish community,” Jonathan Levy said in a statement.

After leaving the UJS, Senitt launched a career that straddled pro-Israel activism, politics and inter-communal dialogue.

His model was Lord Greville Janner, a British Jewish leader and a former Labor Party member of Parliament. Working in Janner’s office, he helped set up the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians.

“Alan was a kind, dedicated and good person, a young man with enormous potential and great hopes for trying to build a better world,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), president of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians. “Alan devoted himself to a life in politics and inter-communal dialogue because he understood that it is only by effort and commitment that the wounds of our world can be knit up.”

Senitt’s pro-Israel commitment found an outlet in his work for the All-Party British-Israel Parliamentary Group and the British Israel Communications and Research Centre.

His concerns did not stop with the Jewish community: He was founding director of the Co-Existence Trust, which enlists Jewish and Muslim parliamentarians to speak out against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and provides a forum for moderate leaders.

“I think it shows how committed he was to turning words into action, making things happen,” said Stone, his successor in the job. “He actually wanted to see people getting together.”

One of Senitt’s last acts for the trust was to organize a tour of Persian Gulf states in February.

“He was very bright, he kept me working,” Janner told JTA. With Jordan’s Prince Hassan, Janner was co-leader of the tour. “I’m torn apart by this.”

The next logical step for Senitt was a career in politics.

He lost an election for a London council seat in May. Casting around for another opportunity, the avid “West Wing” fan heard through friends in Washington’s pro-Israel community that Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, was looking for interns for his political action committee. Senitt arrived three weeks ago.

Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Forward Together, the Warner political action committee, told JTA that Senitt, who was working on the finance team, was learning political organization-building skills that he would apply to efforts in London aimed at fostering cooperation between Israel and Britain.

Around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, three men brandishing a gun and a knife attacked Senitt and the woman he was accompanying outside her apartment in a tony Georgetown neighborhood. Senitt was stabbed and his throat was slit while the woman staggered away alive. The assailants fled in a waiting getaway vehicle.

Police charged four people — two adult men, a minor male and a woman — with murder, and one with attempted rape.

The crime sent shockwaves through Georgetown, a neighborhood not used to such violence.

According to The Washington Post, police believe that one assailant, Jeffery Rice, 22, stabbed Senitt, who advised his companion to give up her valuables. The woman, allegedly held at gunpoint by another assailant, did so, according to the police, but Rice allegedly slit Senitt’s throat. Police say Rice had told his accomplices that he was intent on “cutting” somebody.

Police tracked the suspects because they had tips from earlier attacks in northwest Washington. The alleged assailants dined at a Wendy’s restaurant after the attack.

“This is one of the most brutal acts I’ve seen in my 19 years of police work,” the Post quoted Cmdr. Andy Solberg as saying.

It is also an act that will rebound for years to come, Senitt’s family said in a statement.

“The Jewish community as a whole has lost one of its bright young leaders, and the wider world has lost a champion of peace and goodwill,” the family said.

His death was almost unimaginable, said Shai Franklin, director of international organizations for the World Jewish Congress, who worked closely with Senitt.

“He was the kind of person I thought I would be working with and spending time with for many years to come,” Franklin said. “The type I thought I would be sharing community and global initiatives with.”

Janner, choking back tears as he drove home past Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening, told JTA that he received a posthumous message from his young aide and friend: Tuesday was Janner’s birthday, and a souvenir baseball cap inscribed with his name arrived.

“A happy year ahead,” Senitt had scribbled on the accompanying card.

Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this story.

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