Australian Jewish institutions under lockdown in response to Sydney hostage stand-off

Community leaders don't believe the hostage situation is directed at Australia's Jews, precautions have been taken.

Yeshiva students pray in a synagogue in the Sydney suburb of Bondi (photo credit: REUTERS)
Yeshiva students pray in a synagogue in the Sydney suburb of Bondi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Australian Jewish institutions placed themselves under lockdown due to a hostage situation in Sydney alleged to involve Islamists, community sources announced Monday.
There was no indication that local Jews, or the Jewish community was specifically targeted.
Australian Muslim leaders condemned the taking of an indeterminate number of hostages in the city’s Lindt Chocolat Cafe by an attacker who hoisted a black Islamic flag.
“This incident is not a Jewish community issue, it’s an Australian issue,” a representative of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies told The Jerusalem Post.
Police said the attack was carried out by Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee known for sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed overseas and facing several charges of sexual assault.
According to several media outlets, Israeli singers Gad and Benny Elbaz were present at the cafe, but left prior to the incident.
Australian authorities have expressed concern over the possibility of attacks by returning jihadis taking part in fighting in the Middle East.
Anti-Semitism is generally at a low level in Australia. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent of Australians harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, with 41% of those surveyed by the Jewish group agreeing that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their countries of residence.
Jewish institutions had already tightened security measures following an August incident in which several teenagers threatened to kill a bus full of school children while uttering anti-Semitic epithets. At the time the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a Jewish umbrella group, cited a “disturbing rise of anti-Semitic incidents” in Australia and linked it to the wider rise in such incidents worldwide in the wake of the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas.
“There is a clear correlation between any escalation of the various conflicts in the Middle East and incidents of anti-Semitism in Australia,” the group said in a statement.
While the incident may not have been directly connected with Sydney’s Jews, the attacker, Man Haron Monis, had a history of anti-Semitism. In 2011 The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the self-styled Sheikh, who had sent harassing letters to the families of Australian servicemen killed in combat in the Middle East, had written to politicians and the Jewish community describing a Jewish soldier as a “dirty animal.”
“Some Jews who blame Hitler for violations of human rights are not much better than him,” the paper quoted Monis as writing.
“A Jewish man who kills innocent Muslims, civilians is not a pig. He’s a thousand times worse. Some people don’t eat the meat of pig but they are dirtier than [a] pig.”
Jewish communities around the world have been beefing up their security over the past several years due to worries over rising anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism.
Jewish institutions in New York have been on heightened alert since the stabbing of an Israeli yeshiva student in a prominent Chabad synagogue in Crown Heights last week, while French Jews have been on edge following a home invasion, where a Jewish man was beaten and bound, and his Jewish girlfriend raped, in a racially motivated attack in a Paris suburb earlier this month.
The New York attack came only weeks after two Palestinians attacked a Jerusalem synagogue, killing four worshipers and a Druse policeman and led officials of the Secure Community Network, a joint initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to call for increased vigilance.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Anti-Semitic incidents declined 19% in the United States in 2013, although Jewish communities have been working to increase security since April’s shooting at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas.
Three people died during that attack by a white supremacist, while another four died in a shooting by an Islamic extremist at a Brussels Jewish museum the following month.
Protests and riots featuring anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence wracked Europe this summer as Arabs and Europeans protested Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, leading to increased worry over communal safety.
While community leaders in Australia indicated that they did not believe that there was a connection between the Jewish community and the Lindt hostage situation, the lockdown is understandable given the larger global context.
In response to the attack the Community Security Group issued a statement urging the “Jewish community to be alert for any and all suspicious activity taking place around Jewish installations” and requested “all institutions in the community to be on heightened alert.”
“Jewish institutions across Australia, including schools, are in lockdown, canceling excursions and maintaining tight security measures,” the Australian Jewish News reported.
According to a report in the Jewish Daily Forward two years ago, 97% of funds allocated to anti-terrorism grants to non-profits in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security have gone to Jewish institutions.
In an interview with the New York paper, then-DHS secretary Janet Napolitano said that “there are risks attendant on the Jewish community that are not attendant on all other communities.”
On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times reported that a Chabad group in California had misappropriated federal funds intended to be used for security cameras and was being hit with a fine of around $850,000.
Four men burst into an apartment in Ghent, Belgium on Sunday, taking one person hostage.
“We don’t know if the Ghent situation is connected to the Jewish community. There is no news of any lockdown,” said Consistoire Central Israèlite de Belgique President Baron Julien Klener.
A police spokesman told Guido Joris, a reporter with the Jewish Joods Actueel newspaper that he was sure “there is not any Jewish connection.”