Jewish Agency beefs up security

Director-general says scrutiny to be placed on Israel-related events, summer camps and ulpanim abroad.

ben gurion security 88 2 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ben gurion security 88 2
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With 320 centers and institutions spanning the globe, the Jewish Agency is the largest Jewish organization in the world and is justifiably worried that its facilities and personnel may be targeted by terrorists as a response to the killing of Hizbullah mastermind Imad Mughniyeh. While Israel has denied responsibility for the killing, Hizbullah, together with its Iranian and Syrian patrons, have pointed a finger squarely at Jerusalem and have vowed that a painful response will follow. After the Israeli assassination of Hizbullah secretary-general Abbas Musawi in 1992, Mughniyeh masterminded two attacks on Israeli and Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires in which hundreds were killed and wounded. Following the killing Tuesday night in Damascus, Jewish Agency officials met with the relevant Israeli security services and after consultations sent instructions to all its representatives abroad with updated security guidelines. Moshe Vigdor, director-general of the Jewish Agency, said all of the agency's shlichim (emissaries) had been told to increase their alertness and immediately report any suspicious behavior to the relevant authorities. Vigdor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the agency was not responsible for the security of individual Jewish communities across the world, but since the agency worked closely with many of the communities, there was a degree of coordination. Many agency activities and events that involve members of the local communities and agency officials will have to work out between them which events and functions are deemed risky at this time, and which can be allowed to continue. The agency holds a myriad of aliya fairs worldwide on a regular basis, and security around these and other Israel-related events will be examined and the decision to publicize them reviewed. Similarly, scrutiny will be placed on summer camps and ulpanim (language schools). "We have naturally taken steps to protect everyone who works for the agency and is a beneficiary of its services. We have consulted with the relevant authorities and instructions have been disseminated," Vigdor said. Most Jewish communities have a security plan which they operate in coordination with the local authorities of the host country. The interface between the community and the local police is usually carried out by a community security group made up of volunteers and some paid staff. Synagogue and community event protection falls under this system. Local leaders are encouraged to meet regularly to set guidelines and look over existing plans. It is common practice for community officials to receive security training by either local security forces or by Israel. These courses usually revolve around how to best secure Jewish institutions abroad. The Anti-Defamation League works with national US law enforcement agencies to help them better protect Jewish institutions. ADL spokesman Arieh O'Sullivan said threats to Jewish facilities usually peak around the High Holy Days. "There is a heightened awareness around the world now following Mughniyeh's killing," he said. Vigdor added, "We have taken all the precautions we can think of, but there is never enough that you can do when it comes to security. The assessment we have arrived at together with the security agencies we have consulted says that the precautions we have taken should be sufficient." Asked if the agency was more worried about Jewish communities in Muslim countries, South America or in other far-flung locales, Vigdor said only that the Jewish Agency considered all Jewish communities equally in their security consultations; he did say that there were certain regions which had different rules regarding protection and different emphases. Several large communities have set up networks to guard against terror attacks and to provide protection against anti-Semitic violence. In the former Soviet Union states, the Federation of Jewish Communities has established a Jewish Security Fund for increasing security at Jewish institutions - installing metal doors, metal detectors, "panic" buttons, cameras for video observation and hiring armed guards. British Jews have set up the Community Security Trust, which provides physical security, training and advice for the protection of British Jews. CST assists victims of anti-Semitism, monitors anti-Semitic activity and represents British Jewry to the police and government. In the US, Jews operate the Secure Community Network as part of the community's response to heightened security concerns in the United States. In Australia, the Council for Jewish Community Security works to protect the community, and in South Africa it is the Community Security Organization.