Terrorist case – targeting of Synagogues and Rabbis

December 28th, 2010 by CST

Court hearings began yesterday, 27 December, of nine men arrested in counter-terror raids in Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent on 20 December.

The court heard that two synagogues and their Rabbis were amongst a wider range of potential targets of the accused.

CST had been previously briefed by Police and we have discussed the threat with the Rabbis concerned and with the security at their locations.

For legal and security reasons, CST will not be disclosing the identities of the synagogues and Rabbis, unless their names appear in the media. We shall of course be ensuring that the Jewish community continues to implement rigorous security measures at this time.

There is no information, at this stage, to suggest that this represents a new level of threat to our community. Rather, it confirms, yet again, the need for our current high levels of security across the community.

Season’s greetings to all our readers

December 23rd, 2010 by CST

Blogging will be light here over the next couple of weeks, so we take this opportunity to wish everybody a safe and peaceful holiday season.

seasons greetings

Let’s recognise our friends

December 22nd, 2010 by Mark Gardner

The Jewish Chronicle website carries the following op-ed by Richard Benson, Chief Executive of CST.

—–  

On 8 December, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, wrote to me, announcing government funding for the security guards at 39 voluntary aided Jewish schools. He said the funding,

should fully meet the parental costs of the guarding… parents of Jewish pupils in VA schools in England should not have to pay for counter-terrorism measures, over and above mainstream security costs. Any responsible government should meet those additional costs on its citizens.

This striking example of concrete government backing for our community followed five years of CST-led campaigning to reduce the burden of security costs on parents of Jewish schoolchildren.

We should not underestimate the significance of the decision, nor the input from Michael Gove that finally drove it through.

From the outset, however, it would not have been possible without support from John Mann and the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism. Other MPs from all political parties have also made invaluable contributions, both of moral encouragement and practical input. In particular, Mike Freer and Matthew Offord provided outstanding support whilst they were still Barnet councillors, and then after their election to Parliament. The Jewish media also played its part, keeping the issue alive in the news and editorial pages.

CST Chairman Gerald Ronson and I have met and discussed the school funding issue with a succession of ministers, including David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, John Reid, Jacqui Smith and Ed Balls, as well as with Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. These leading politicians all sympathised with our community’s situation but many technical hurdles remained.

The need for security, expressed by CST and the schools, required backing from the police. The cost of security infrastructure and guarding across 39 schools was assessed and scrutinised by CST. New mechanisms for delivering the funding were drawn up from scratch and agreed across numerous government departments.

As this complex process dragged on, CST implemented and largely funded an ambitious programme to enhance physical security at all community buildings, including Jewish schools.

This infrastructure helps reduce the number of guards actually needed.

As Chief Executive of CST, I fully sympathise with communal unease about antisemitism, and especially with frustration regarding what can actually be done to prevent the threats against our community, whether that be radicalisation on campus, the potential terrorist threats that we try to ensure do not inhibit our way of life, or abusive and offensive postings on the internet.

Nevertheless, when times are difficult, we should most remember the friendship and determination of the many politicians, civil servants and police who are trying to help combat the problem. Ending antisemitism and terrorist threats is of course our common goal, but we have to deal with the reality of today’s situation.

So whilst nobody wants to see, far less celebrate, security hardware and guards at synagogues, Jewish schools or events, we have all witnessed the murderous intent of the terrorists and the sheer extent of their UK networks. Sadly, their threats and actions across the world show they regard Jews as priority targets.

We will require a security response for the foreseeable future. It is an abnormal situation, but we need to come to terms with it and lead our Jewish lives as we see fit.

Indeed, never before have there been so many opportunities to lead the Jewish life of our choice, be that religious, educational or cultural.

It is in this context that the government’s decision should be understood. It should boost our morale and increase our determination to enjoy our identity to the full, as we have every right and every opportunity to do.

The pernicious, tired world of conspiracies

December 17th, 2010 by Dave Rich

There is an excellent article on the Morning Star website, called The pernicious, tired world of conspiracies, which explains the problems and weaknesses of attempts to explain the world through conspiracy theories.

The author, Colin Todhunter, writes:

Why bother having an informed understanding of the dynamics of the modern world based on rigorous research when current trends and events can simply be explained as being the result of some secret, manipulative elite or amphibians from outer space with an agenda to control the world?

Instead of trying to appreciate the logic and processes of capital accumulation and economic crises, for instance, or even the historical antecedents of modernity according to recognised scholarly analysis in an attempt to understand the world, it is much easier to assume that the members of some shadowy group have been in charge all this time – the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove, Babylonian paganism, all the world’s Jewish people, or even giant green space lizards, the wonderful theory of Britain’s David Icke.

[...]

Today’s conspiracy theories often have a whiff of neoconservativism – and even anti-semitism – with their anti-government agendas. Better for some to have the distracting effects of a conspiracy theory that points the finger at government bureaucrats, green lizards and a “new world order” rather than the socialists of yesteryear howling at the gates of big business and capitalism.

Conspiracy theories are quick-fix explanations in a complex world, where the ordinary person feels powerless, confused and craves easily digestible answers. It thus becomes easy to regard certain events, like the September 11 2001 attacks in New York or the current economic crisis, as being the work of identifiable targets such as “the government” or some other group who are accused of deliberately controlling the situation behind the scenes.

[...]

Conspiracy theories provide limited insight into the dynamics of power, oppression and resistance in the 21st century.

There is no broad sociological analysis pointing to cultural, historical and economic factors and, therefore, no credible alternative agenda offered for change.

In the absence of this we are left with the crude assumptions of the conspiracy monger, who plays on the prejudices and fears of ordinary people, who in turn latch on to the explanation offered as a substitute for the underlying causes of their powerlessness and frustrations.

All of which brings me to today’s post on the blog of Inayat Bunglawala, in which he contrasts some favourable quotes by David Cameron about Israel, with a less favourable one regarding Iran. And how does Bunglawala explain this difference?

Voila! The difference made by financial donations to our main political parties by shady operators who use their wealth to undermine and corrupt our democracy.

Whoever can he mean?

Iranian Revolution: Lessons Learnt?

December 15th, 2010 by Mark Gardner

A previously confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office report (large pdf, here), officially released on 15 December by the FCO, suggests some foundational answers to the commonly asked questions regarding Britain’s apparent tolerance and accommodation of Islamist groups of varying extremes throughout the 1990s. In other words, what is sometimes termed the ”Londonistan” phenomenon of that time. (The report is 79 pages long and covers far more ground than merely these aspects covered below.) 

It needs stressing in this context, that British tolerance of Islamist extremists has significantly waned since the ’90s. The problem certainly persists, especially with Muslim Brotherhood type elements, but the recently elected Conservative-led government appears especially determined to address and tackle the general problem of Islamist influence and radicalisation, rather than simply its worst Al Qaeda-linked extremes.

In summary, the declassified FCO report suggests that groups opposing friendly autocratic regimes should be held close, in order to maintain relations with the country should it undergo revolution. Furthermore, such contact should be constant, so as not to suddenly alarm friendly autocrats when it is initiated. Friendly autocrats should be told that the contact is in their best interest, as it helps provide early warnings of opposition intent.

The report was commissioned in 1979 and is entitled, British Policy on Iran 1974-1978. The FCO website’s introduction states 

The Islamic Revolution in Iran represented a seismic shift in the internal and geopolitical orientation of a formerly close ally of the United Kingdom.

This document, now released for the first time, was commissioned in 1979 by the then Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon David (now Lord) Owen, in order to enable a detailed examination of the context of the events leading to the Revolution, and for the FCO to identify any lessons that might be learned from the UK’s reactions to, and analysis of, the events concerned.

The intention, as mentioned by the then Permanent Under-Secretary in his foreword, was not to apportion blame for the fact that the FCO, in common with others, failed to predict the Islamic Revolution. Rather, the intention was to “examine where, if anywhere, we had gone wrong and how we could do better in the future”. In this context Chapter XI, “Conclusion: Lessons for the FCO”, is of particular interest.

As a whole, this document shows the value of analysis and historical perspective in formulating policy not just with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran, but to other countries and regions which remain of vital interest to the UK.

It is important to bear in mind that this is a historical document and does not necessarily reflect the views of the current UK government. It has been released for publication on the web following the FCO’s standard clearance procedures.

The report analyses where Britain went wrong in its dealings with the Shah and in not dealing with his opponents. The immediate result of these failures was that after the revolution, Britain lost significant commercial and diplomatic interests in this vitally important region.

Was there, however, an even longer term domestic outcome; namely, how did Britain’s Iranian experience then influence its 1990′s accommodation of the full range of Islamists – from terrorists to dissident political refugees? With Britain now seemingly being a net exporter of suicide bombers, what roles could the FCO’s 30 year old Iranian lessons have inadvertently played in our current predicament?     

There should be no doubting Britain’s essential willingness in the post 9/11 world to confront and defeat what now passes for Al Qaeda and its support network, but back in the 1980s and 1990s this was demonstrably not the case. Covert (and not so covert) 1980s British and American backing for anti-Soviet mujahideen meant that the kernel of what became Al Qaeda was fully backed, both physically and morally. Legal and reputational issues also played their part, such as the lengthy and embarassing failure in the courts to deport anti-Saudi activist, Mohamed al-Massari, who even appeared in 1996 as a guest on the satirical BBC quiz show hit, “Have I Got News For You“. Ultimately, it took 9/11 for this situation to turn around, but by then the fundamental damage had been done; as cruelly manifest by the 7th July 2005 London bombings.    

Still, why did Britain not take this as seriously as, in retrospect, it clearly should have done? For example, why, when Algerian terrorists were bombing France, was London hosting a linked propaganda mouthpiece, Al Ansar (and likely much more besides that). This pro-Algerian Jihadi network, centred upon the then-notorious Finsbury Park Mosque, unsurprisingly played its part in the radicalisation of British Muslims; as did others that crossed the same orbit, such as the early and mid 1990s version of Hizb ut Tahrir (prior to its subsequent splits). 

It is possible that the Iran post-mortem report gathered dust and influenced nobody, but read its conclusions (as the FCO recommend above) and you may well be struck by similarities between them and aspects of FCO and Home Office behaviour in the 1990s (and partly since), towards Islamist extremists, both domestically and overseas. You may also be struck by lessons that appear not to have been learnt. Errors that appear to be institutionalised and are essentially due to wishful thinking; particularly “the three principal conclusions” regarding “Policy” with which the report ends (page 79):

(a) hopes and expectations

…It is only too easy to allow hopes for the future to affect perceptions of it, with the result that analysis is not wholly objective. In the case of political risk countries it is particularly important that because the FCO fervently hopes that there will not be a threat to British interests it is not reluctant to see signs of trouble when they emerge.

(b) opposition to the government in power  

The experience of Iran suggests that in two respects it was a mistake to allow contact with opposition figures to lapse. This deprived the Embassy of sources of information…It also meant…[if Britain] wished in certain circumstances to provide a transition of power from the Shah to an elected government they were handicapped…This handicap could have been avoided.

(c) autocrats

…flattery often appeared to be the best weapon to deploy and avoid losing his [the Shah's] favour…It tended to be assumed that he was ready and willing to damage Western interests if offended, whereas in practice he rarely behaved in this way. The experience of Iran suggests that in dealing with an autocratic government of broadly pro Western alignment the West will secure her interests better with an honest and frank relationship with that government maintained over a period of years.

The preceding chapter (page 66-76) is called “Could the losses have been avoided?”. This also strongly suggests subsequent lessons and failures, including

In the first place it now seems questionable whether it was right in the early 1960′s to decide that contact with opponents of the regime should be avoided…After a number of years it became clear to the [Tehran] Embassy that if they wished to renew [opposition] contact…they would risk incurring the Shah’s odium…But if contacts had never been allowed to lapse in the first place it would have been more difficult for the Shah to complain. A feasible alternative policy would have been to tell the Shah after 1963 that the British were pleased with the success of the White Revolution, that they supported him wholeheartedly, and that they would continue to keep in touch with his political opponents in case of a renewed threat to him. this would have been consistent with past British policy and the Shah would have had no clear cut ground for political complaint…

Finally, from this one officially declassified FCO report, to one of the hundreds of thousands of unofficially sanctioned Wikileaks reports. In this case, written by recently deceased senior US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke after a meeting with David Cameron MP, prior to his becoming Prime Minister

‘We let in some crazies,’ Cameron said, ‘and didn’t wake up soon enough.’”

Government report on tackling antisemitism released

December 15th, 2010 by Dave Rich

The British government has today released a report (pdf) assessing the progress made in implementing the recommendations of the 2006 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. The report charts the work done by the Cross-Government Working Group on Antisemitism, which includes representatives from ten government departments, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), CST, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. It covers the progress made in recording antisemitic crime, funding for security at Jewish schools, tackling antisemitism on the internet and in the media, and supporting Holocaust education.

In discussing the recent release by ACPO of police figures for antisemitic hate crime across the UK in 2009, which fulfilled a key recommendation of the Inquiry, the report discusses the close cooperation between CST and ACPO’s National Community Tension Team in mapping antisemitic crimes and incidents; monitoring tension towards the Jewish community; and coordinating police and CST security operations for Jewish festivals:

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ data will show the figures for each police force area in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This transparency, combined with the data from the Community Security Trust Annual Report into Antisemitic Crime, gives us the clearest picture yet of the extent of antisemitic hate crime and will allow local groups and the Trust to compare this to their own data and promote discussions with local police where there are discrepancies. The first release of data will show a close correlation in the police and the Community Security Trust records. The Trust data records slightly more incidents but will include some incidents which would not be ‘recordable’ crimes and therefore not included in the police data.

[...]

The original purpose of the National Community Tension Team data collection was to assess the extent of hostility towards communities and to inform policing decisions by predicting times of greater tension and sharing best practice to inform effective prevention activity. Police analysts meet regularly with counterparts from the Community Security Trust to ensure that the picture in relation to antisemitism is as complete as is possible.

The picture provided by the data suggests that there were significant peaks in antisemitic attacks and abuse following high profile events in Israel and the Middle East. Liaison between all police forces, especially the three forces mentioned above, and Jewish community groups is strong and the link to the National Community Tension Team allows them to co-ordinate extra security around, for example, high holy days. The National Community Tension Team, working with the Community Security Trust, provides guidance for police forces to follow when policing these and similar events. The guidance includes examples, based on previous years, of what police forces can do during this time to ensure the safety of Jewish communities.

The Government recognises the valuable service that the Community Security Trust provides to the community. This has been evidenced by them securing funding from the Victims Fund Hate Crime section for the last two years which has supported them in developing models of hate crime reporting.

The report’s summary is listed in full below; the full report can be downloaded and read here (pdf).

Summary of key achievements

• Education Secretary Michael Gove agreed up to £2m to fund tighter security measures in Jewish faith schools within the state sector.
• Government has agreed to fund the counter-terrorism security needs of Jewish faith schools within the state system.
• Agreement has been reached for all police forces to record antisemitic hate crimes and the first official antisemitic hate crime statistics were published on 30 November 2010.
• Government is committed to host a seminar in spring 2011 to ensure continued progress on tackling antisemitism and all other forms of hate on the internet.
• Government recognises the importance of tackling antisemitic discourse and supported the publication of a report – Playing the Nazi Card – by the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (EISCA).
• Government has appointed Sir Andrew Burns as the UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues.
• Government has made a public commitment to fund the Lessons From Auschwitz Project in 2011.
• Government is committed to remembering the Holocaust and have committed £750,000 to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the 2011 commemoration and related educational activities.
• Government has committed £2m during 2010-11 to ‘Faith In Action’, a small grants programme to support local inter faith activity.
• Government has supported Inter Faith Week to the tune of £200k in 2010.
• Government has produced and delivered occupational standards for police officers handling hate crimes and published a diagnostic toolkit to enable local criminal justice agencies to self-audit their performance in the handling of hate crimes, from initial call handling through to prosecution.
• Government supported the London Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism in February 2009 which led to the London Declaration on Tackling Antisemitism.
• Government continues to support the work of the Cross-Government Working Group to Tackle Antisemitism.
• The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) established the BIS Group on Antisemitism and Higher Education. The Group has brought together higher education and Jewish community stakeholders and has successfully helped to re-build bridges between the higher education sector and the Jewish community.
• The higher education Equality Challenge Unit is undertaking a major and unique national project on Religion and Belief in higher education. The project will seek the views of Jewish staff and students about their experiences of higher education, and investigate the issue of incident monitoring and reporting in higher education, which was raised as a specific concern.
• Universities UK have established the Academic Freedom Working Group. The aim of the group is to look at how universities can best protect academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus under contemporary conditions of geo-political conflict, racial and religious tension and violent extremism.

Exclude Pastor Jones

December 13th, 2010 by CST

Update, within hours of posting the below article, CST has seen an EDL statement in which they say that contrary to media reports, they did not invite Pastor Jones to speak, but that he had approached them and they had agreed “in principle”. However, EDL now say that he will not be  attending the Luton demonstration as they feel some of his statements make it inappropriate for him to do so, particularly given the different groups with whom EDL seeks to work. (It would seem that Jones’s Koran burning threats are not the primary reason for EDL’s decision, although the statement does disagree with burning the Koran, as EDL wish people to read it and then be extremely hostile against it.) 

The English Defence League has invited Pastor Terry Jones, best known for his threat to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 this year, to speak at an EDL demonstration in Luton in February next year.

This is not the first time that the EDL have looked to America to boost their public profile. In October they invited Rabbi Nachum Shifren from California to address a rally outside the Israeli embassy in London. Shifren is very much a lone voice in the American Jewish community – not a “senior US rabbi” as he was wrongly described in the Observer, a mistake which the newspaper has now corrected – and his message was rejected across the British Jewish community. Now Pastor Jones, who was condemned throughout the United States for his Koran-burning plan, is the next American guest of the EDL.

Yet this invitation exposes as a sham the EDL’s efforts to portray themselves as a non-racist organisation that is merely concerned with Islamist extremism. Pastor Jones, by threatening to burn the Koran, clearly targets Islam as a religion and all observant Muslims, rather than just focusing on extremist activity. In addition, Jones has described Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism (as well as Islam) as being “of the devil”. The EDL’s demonisation of all Muslims is reason enough to reject them; even more so because, as their invitation to Pastor Jones shows, their message of hatred is of a type that never remains limited to one community and always risks a more generalised growth in bigotry against all minorities.

CST has consistently condemned the EDL and similar groups. The EDL and Jones are a perfect match: both use inflammatory rhetoric and deliberately offensive actions, to incite hatred and division between communities. EDL demonstrations often lead to violent disorder and racist targeting of local residents.  Luton in particular is sadly no stranger to extremist activity of all types; the plan to bring Pastor Jones to Luton seems designed to ratchet up the tension there as high as possible. For this reason, CST backs the calls by Hope Not Hate, John Cruddas MP and others for the Home Secretary to exclude Pastor Jones from the UK.

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