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One Year After London Attacks, U.k. Jews Stress Communal Security

July 12, 2006
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History and geography are the major reasons why British Jewry’s security systems are decades ahead of those in the United States. As Britain marked the one-year anniversary last Friday of London terrorist attacks that killed 52 people, including at least three Jews, officials with British Jewry’s main defense organization talked with JTA about how they help protect the community.

While U.S. Jews only recently have begun considering security on a communitywide and nationwide level — the Secure Community Alert Network was launched in January 2004 and has been activated just once — Britain’s Community Security Trust dates back to the 1930s, shortly after the Nazis came to power in Germany.

Today the trust has four offices and 54 staff members. It’s a registered charity completely funded by donations from the Jewish community, and its services are provided free of charge.

As in the United States, the trust sees terrorism and anti-Semitic attacks as the principal threats to the British Jewish community.

As the anniversary of the July 7, 2005, attacks approached, Mark Gardner, press spokesman for the trust, told JTA that British Jewry “is as safe as it can reasonably be,” yet he acknowledged that community members might feel particularly threatened as both British citizens and Jews.

“We know that those who would wish to emulate the 7/7 attacks also harbor a murderous hatred of Jews,” he said.

The trust’s working ethos is that the Jewish community is responsible for its own security. Gardner asserts that the organization “has the widest reach of any U.K. Jewish communal group” and works in partnership with all sectors of the Jewish community and relevant British authorities, including local police and Scotland Yard. The trust frequently offers advice on directives to local police on how to deal with hate crimes, victim support and community liaison.

The trust points to specific steps to keep Britain’s Jewish community safer that might be applicable in other countries.

During the High Holidays, for example, members of the trust accompany police on patrols of Jewish neighborhoods, especially in North London and North Manchester. Three weeks ago, trust members accompanied Sir Ian Blair, the London Metropolitan Police commissioner, on a tour of synagogues in Golder’s Green, one of London’s largest Chasidic communities, during Shabbat morning services.

The trust also has “third-party reporting status,” which means it can report crimes on a victim’s behalf while maintaining the victim’s anonymity.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. Jewish community’s security systems are still in their infancy. The American network was developed by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group to alert Jewish institutions in case of danger.

The trust was consulted in the planning stages of the network.

“I hope that it helped to inspire SCAN to see that not only could something be done, but also that something had to be done,” Gardner told JTA.

The network has been utilized only once: In April, following a threat by Palestinian terrorists to target “Zionists outside Palestine,” it was activated to determine whether Jewish institutions should take extra security precautions.

After that threat, which came shortly before a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed 11 and wounded more than 60 people, Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive vice president, said network officials had been in contact with law-enforcement officials.

Hoenlein, who could not be reached for comment, recently visited London to study the British community’s security measures.

Gardner suggested that U.S. Jewry ultimately needs to take a more proactive approach to security. And, he notes, cooperation among different groups is essential.

“Most Jewish communities have many communal groups, bodies and institutions,” he said. “Security, however, is one area that needs financial and physical resource, unity, dialogue, leadership and expertise.”

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