'Israeli protection may increase Chabad's risk'

Security expert: They were targets because of their faith, but Israeli guards adds a new element.

chabad house raid 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
chabad house raid 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A security consultant for nonprofit and religious outreach organizations said Monday that Chabad may find its emissaries worldwide at greater risk for terrorist attack if it accepts security protection from the Israeli government. Chabad representatives in Israel initially turned to government security agencies for help and funding after its emissaries, Rabbi Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg, and four visitors were killed at the Chabad House in Mumbai during last month's terrorist siege. Expert Jeff Eames, a veteran field worker for the United Nations and other agencies who now runs a nonprofit security training consultancy in Ontario, Canada, told The Jerusalem Post that Chabad must take strategic steps to reduce the vulnerability of its facilities worldwide. "They were invaded, so clearly there was a [security] failure there, because there was nothing to stop anyone coming into their offices," Eames told the Post. "They must err on the side of defense, because they will by their nature be at risk," Eames added. "But they became targets because of their faith and for no other reason, so if they go back to the Israeli government and ask for security help it might make them even more of a target for being more closely tied to Israel." Israeli defense officials told the Post last week they would be unlikely to finance security operations for Chabad's facilities in risky areas but recommended the Lubavitch organization move into secured office buildings, rather than operating out of more vulnerable freestanding houses. Chabad officials at the Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood told the Post they are working closely with "security experts" but declined to comment on any specific plans for protecting the more than 4,000 emissary families it has working in 73 countries. "The very nature of security is such that is precludes public discussion," said Chabad spokesman Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin. Chabad leaders said immediately after the attacks they would not be deterred from their mission, and the Holtzbergs' families have said they would like to go to Mumbai to carry on their children's work. Some security measures are already in place at some Chabad houses, like the one in Johannesburg, which, like many private homes there, has a video surveillance system and has private guards and a locked entry. Yet Chabad members told the Post they worried that excessive security precautions would compromise Chabad's mission of Jewish outreach. "You can only go so far - to barricade ourselves in would be defeating the purpose of what the Chabad Houses are all about, so we have to find the middle ground to make sure we can serve our mission," said Lubavitch philosopher Rabbi Jacob I. Schochet. Jewish groups in Europe said Monday they were moving to establish their own security patrols following the Mumbai attacks, training Jewish volunteers to provide surveillance and security, rather than relying on private contractors. The Rabbinical Center of Europe and the Jewish Emergency Rescue Organization said they would arrange for Israeli security experts to train local volunteers in various European cities to provide emergency response and act as patrols. Chabad, with its enormous operations - many concentrated in far-flung locations with tiny Jewish communities - may have to rely on other procedures, from training their own emissaries in security procedures to hiring local guards, experts said. "The problem is really that you don't have the same calculation in humanitarian work that you do in the military - you can't say you're willing to risk this many lives in order to achieve your objectives," said Abby Stoddard, a research associate for the Humanitarian Practice Network. Stoddard said Jewish groups aren't the only organizations at risk for attack in far-flung areas. Studies have shown that terrorist attacks on humanitarian aid groups have increased ninefold in the past decade because it attracts more attention or creates more political leverage. In 2007, four Mormon missionaries were abducted while serving in Nigeria, prompting the organization to implement security procedures like suspending missionary activities during high-risk periods like elections, said Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.