Toulouse Tragedy: Learning the Lessons

March 23rd, 2012 by CST

Today’s Jewish Telegraph contains the following opinion piece from CST: 

 Toulouse Tragedy: Learning the Lessons

As we try to come to terms with the dreadful shootings in Toulouse, we look to make some sense of what has happened and what lessons can be learned. In asking this, we also try to balance the overwhelmingly positive daily reality of our Jewish lives, with the reality of the terrorist threat.

It is, in a sense, impossible to understand what has happened. How can normal people ever understand the cold-blooded murders of innocent children? Worse, the more details you know of the actual shootings, the harder they are to comprehend.

Despite our disgust at the barbarity and the pain it causes: there are lessons for us all to learn. Indeed, since we cannot undo what has happened, it feels like learning the lessons becomes a moral responsibility, as well as a deeply practical one.

As a community, we are reminded again of the need for security, and why we need a genuine partnership between the police, Community Security Trust (CST) and all of our community’s members, be they Jewish individuals or communal organisations. CST is a charity that is part and parcel of our whole community; and it is everybody’s support and cooperation that enables CST to do our work.

The Toulouse shootings force upon all of us the harsh reality of what ‘terrorism’ looks and feels like, yet we know that these threats exist. That is precisely why our community has already ensured that security and policing mechanisms are in place; and it is why the Government already funds security guards at state aided Jewish schools. Our working partnerships with police are exceptional and constantly evolving. 

Toulouse also proves (once again) the difficulty of trying to read a terrorist’s mind. First, the killer was allegedly a neo-Nazi, now he is pro Al Qaeda. There is no comfort in the clarification. Both types are vicious antisemites and both types exist here in Britain. We have probably all thought, “oh, this is just a small local community, nobody would bother attacking us”, but Toulouse is a small community and the school is even smaller. Unfortunately, the notion that “it could never happen here” is shown to be wishful thinking.

Finally, there should be a determination to keep calm. Be alert, but don’t be panicked: whether you are volunteering for CST, waving your children off to school, or attending synagogue. Please, let your enduring lesson be to appreciate what you have; and to keep leading the Jewish life of your choice. 


After Toulouse

March 22nd, 2012 by CST

Today’s Jewish Chronicle carries a CST opinion piece regarding communal security in the aftermath of the terrorist attack upon the Jewish community in Toulouse, France.

As is normal, the Chronicle version is slightly edited from CST’s original submission, which appears here in full and with its original title:  

 After Toulouse

After the tragedy in Toulouse, where now for communal security?

It seems almost wrong to stress, whilst the horrors are still so fresh, that Jewish life here continues. Nevertheless, it does continue. We had security before Toulouse and we will, most certainly, have it after Toulouse: but there is a moral and practical imperative to learn what we can from it.

Our community has CST, a nationwide charity with thousands of trained volunteers and around 60 full and part time staff. We have significantly improved security at many hundreds of communal locations, large and small, throughout Britain. Windows are now shatter proofed, CCTV’s, gates, fencing and other security hardware are upgraded or newly installed. This has cost CST millions of pounds in charitable donations, with some of the cost also shared by community buildings.

The investment occurred in the aftermath of two pro Al Qaeda car bombings in Istanbul. CST saw the damage (literally, having visited the sites) and we left determined to invest whatever we could in firming up the community’s security infrastructure.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the Toulouse attack, at a small school, is it shows (yet again) that any location can be attacked. We all like to think “it couldn’t happen here”, but the reality is different. Originally, we heard the terrorist was a neo-Nazi, now he seems pro Al Qaeda. It matters in terms of whom he inspires: but both ideologies hate Jews and are not hard to find in Britain.

As for our children, thanks to supportive MP’s, CST now administers millions of pounds of government funding for security guards at 42 state aided Jewish schools. The money comes because CST and police demonstrated the need for it; and the government wanted to support the community, because antisemitic incident levels and terrorist threats are unusually high.

Police support and partnership is paramount. Without it, CST could not do its work. We share briefings before major events and festivals; and CST recently helped police to brief two rabbis who had been included in potential hit lists drawn up by terrorists. There is not a day goes by without some form of communication and cooperation.      

It is not for CST to compare our communal security with other countries. Everywhere has different resources and political contexts, some highly complex after the Holocaust. Fortunately, CST benefits greatly from a supportive environment, both within the Jewish community and beyond it; and we regularly host visitors from overseas who wish to learn from our example.

In Britain, we had many decades of Jewish communal security before our leadership, police and politicians established CST as a charity, after the Balfour House and Israeli Embassy bombings in 1994. Since then, and especially post 9/11, CST has been integral to the planning of new communal buildings. In particular, we now have a number of marvellous new Jewish schools, which had security in-built from the drawing board stage. It is a striking metaphor: we understand the threat and its security consequences, but our communal life is flourishing and we keep on building for the future.



Toulouse shooting: suspect identified

March 21st, 2012 by CST

French police have identified Mohammed Merah, a French national with alleged connections to al-Qaeda, as the prime suspect for the murder of four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday. Merah is currently surrounded in his flat in Toulouse where he is armed and is refusing to surrender.

There is still currently no information indicating a threat to the UK Jewish community but CST is working with the police to ensure that there is an appropriate security presence at all Jewish schools.

CST requests all parents of children at Jewish schools to give school security personnel and staff your fullest cooperation and wherever possible volunteer to do security duty at your school.

Security Reminders for all Jewish buildings can be found on the CST website here.

Shooting at a Jewish School in France

March 19th, 2012 by CST

At least four people, including three children, have been killed in a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, south west France.

CST is appalled by this senseless attack on innocent Jewish schoolchildren and teachers. We extend our deepest sympathy and solidarity to the French Jewish community at this tragic event.

CST is not aware of any specific information indicating a threat to the UK Jewish community, but this is a reminder of the general threat of terrorism to Jewish schools and other communal buildings. We are in close contact with police and request that our community remains calm, and continues to support and cooperate with security measures at schools and other Jewish locations.

You can find security advice for your building on the CST website here.


Milan synagogue: terror arrests in UK and Italy

March 15th, 2012 by CST

News agencies are reporting that British and Italian anti-terrorism police have this morning arrested two people on suspicion of involvement in a potential terrorist attack on a Milan synagogue.

CST has been informed by Scotland Yard that there is no indication that UK Jewish locations have been targeted.  

Italian Police arrested a 20 year old man and British Police arrested a 40 year old woman. The man is “the chief suspect. The woman is suspected of “collecting information useful to terrorism”. Her residence is being searched and the authorities are trying to establish if there is a link between her and the alleged plot.

“Italian authorities also confiscated a computer they say contains plans for the attack, including details of the synagogue’s security detail and potential access points.”

“Anti-terrorism investigators identified the [male] suspect from Internet traffic including a Facebook page on how to assemble explosives, and sought the arrest warrant after receiving information that the man was receiving weapons training.”

Reuters coverage is here; and Associated Press coverage is here.


The Economist’s Pathetic “Auschwitz Complex”

March 9th, 2012 by Mark Gardner

According to an article by “M.S.” on the Economist blog, Israel and its Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fear Iran because they suffer from “Auschwitz complex”. Furthermore, this “Auschwitz complex” supposedly links with the Jewish festivals of Purim and Passover. At its end, we are told that Netanyahu’s fears over Iran, reveal his “ghetto mentality”.    

The Holocaust, Jewish history and religion are crucial to the Israeli national psyche and the decisions of its leaders: but this is not a serious article on that multifaceted subject. Instead, this article’s lack of accuracy and sensitivity make it little more than an abuse of the Holocaust and Jewish religion in order to stick two fingers up at Netanyahu. (The Economist is perfectly entitled to criticise Netanyahu: but to do so on the premise of supposed Jewish psychological, religious and historical traits takes us into altogether different territory.)      

To begin, the article’s title, “Auschwitz complex”, belongs more on the websites of Gilad Atzmon (eg “Swindler’s List”) and David Irving (eg “Auschwitz: the End of the Line”) than it does on that of the Economist. It is a cold joke, poking fun at the Holocaust to evoke a wry grin and not a little coldness in the heart of the reader.

The article opens with an attack upon Netanyahu for telling President Obama (in the context of Iran’s nuclear ambitions) that Israel seeks to remain “master of its fate”. The author ridicules the notion that any individual country, especially one in conflict with its neighbours, can be master of its own fate in an inter-dependent world. This is a facile straw man argument that sets the tone for what follows.

Next, Israel and Netanyahu are blamed for every failure of the Oslo Peace Accords and for the ongoing conflict situation. There is nothing unusual about such condemnation, but in this context it is required by the author to justify the notion of an “Auschwitz complex”, whereby Israel’s and Netanyahu’s actions are presented as a mix of premeditated ideological malice and unwarranted paranoia. (It is possible that the title, “Auschwitz complex” was written by the Economist, not the author. Nevertheless, the article is woeful; and if the Economist chose the headline, then that is, in a sense, even more depressing.)

Having built the platform, we get the crux of the article:

Having trapped themselves in a death struggle with Palestinians that they cannot acknowledge or untangle, Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran…the notion that it represents a new Holocaust is overstated…But Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite.

Where to begin with this? For the sake of brevity, two points:

Firstly, it is plain wrong to say that Palestinians cannot be “fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite”. Palestinian and Arab threats to destroy Israel have consistently formed an “ideological trope” in the Israeli psyche, just like today’s Iranian threat. Prior to the state’s creation, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was (and still is) reviled in this manner, just as Egypt’s President Nasser was in the 1950 and 60s. Then, Menachem Begin’s leadership of Israel (1977-1983) was marked by his characterisation of Yasser Arafat and the PLO as Nazi inheritors. Similarly, the Hamas charter bears comparison with any “eliminationist” text. 

Secondly, as the ever-excellent Professor Alan Johnson points out, let us note that far from the concept of eliminationist antisemitism – being part of some ‘Jewish national playbook,’ it was the absence of such an orientating concept among the Jews of Europe that made the nature of the Nazi assault so difficult to understand and respond to.”

The author, “M.S.”, then draws upon Netanyahu’s presentation to Obama of the Book of Esther, which tells how a Persian king was persuaded by (the Jewish) Queen Esther to prevent the massacre of his country’s Jews. The story is read at the festival of Purim, which coincided with the Netanyahu-Obama meeting. We are then told how Passover includes the “Ve-hi she-amdah” prayer, “Because in every generation they rise up to destroy us, but the Holy One, Blessed be He, delivers us from their hands”.

The article says that Netanyahu “seems to be wooing Mr Obama and the American public just as effectively” and that this “resembles” a “doomed marriage” in which

the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook.

No consideration is given to Iran’s past and present actions. No mention is made of its nuclear programme, its goal of regional domination, its leader’s apocalyptic outbursts, its denial of the Holocaust, its terrorism against Jews and Israelis. It is simply all down to Israeli delusions, which rest upon paranoid Jewish religious and Holocaust foundations. This is superior to Gilad Atzmon’s work, such as “Trauma Queen [Esther]…Pre-Traumatic Gas SyndromeFrom Purim to AIPAC”, but it is still reminiscent of it. Surely the Economist ought to have far higher standards than the dross psychology and selective facts that comprise and compromise this article.

Finally, the author signs off with a couple more digs at Netanyahu, claiming his concerns over Iran (and Palestinians), and his Book of Esther gift to Obama reveal the failure to fulfil “the Zionist mission…to give the Jewish people control over its destiny”, and his being “still in”the ‘Ghetto mentality’”.

By comparison, the Jerusalem Post (traditionally a somewhat more pro-Israel publication than the Economist), noted that against American advice, Israel had very successfuly declared independence (1948), launched the Six Day War (1967) and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear programme (1981). The editorial also had this to say about Netanyahu, the Book of Esther, Zionism and Iran:

That message from the Megila [Book of Esther] that encourages Jews to proactively take their fate into their own hands is also the story of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel. Refusing any longer to reconcile themselves to traditional passivity vis-à-vis the creation of a sovereign state, Jews who adhered to Zionism called to take hold of their own destiny.

…Unfortunately, they failed to achieve their goal before the Holocaust, which proved beyond a doubt Zionism’s premise that the Jewish people could not rely on the compassion of others.

…The message of the Megila is not one of militarism.

The lesson that Netanyahu wanted to impart to Obama was not that Israel must launch an attack against Iran to stop its mullahs from developing nuclear weapons.

However, the Megila does value Jewish action over Jewish passivity and recognizes that whether through ingenuity, good luck, divine intervention or a combination of them all the Jewish people, when given the chance, have managed to foil the plans of their many enemies. Let’s hope we have the same success in facing the Iranian challenge.

Boycott Kosher Goods

March 6th, 2012 by Mark Gardner

Anti-Israel boycotts exemplify the highly charged debate over what is and isn’t antisemitic in the context of anti-Israel campaigning. More accurately, they show the utter inadequacy of trying to pin “antisemitic” or “not antisemitic” labels upon anti-Israel actions. Targeting the kosher section of a supermarket is the sharp end of this.

Take the words of one boycotter in Birmingham:

It went really well…[we] filled a massive trolley, tipped tons of stuff in, dates, peppers, loads of kosher stuff, wine, stickered everything…and left all our stuff with a big sign saying ‘boycott Israeli goods’…yeah, it was really good.

The boycotters don’t boycott Israel in order to boycott Jews. They see themselves continuing the symbolic, successful, non-violent tradition of the anti-South African boycott. For many Jews, however, boycotts instinctively evoke an antisemitic past, rather than a feel-good moment in anti-apartheid history. There is also the inescapable sense that someone who is being singled out for boycott is also being implicitly singled out for hatred.

This video here was recently shot in Birmingham and includes the above quote about boycotting “kosher stuff” (at 14.06). The boycotters in the video look like nice, decent young people, trying to do their bit as they excitedly film and photograph each other in various Birmingham branches of Tesco. You’ll be glad to hear them saying how non-antisemitic they are. (They seem entirely genuine in that.)  

Nevertheless, if you watch the entire 15minutes of the video there is a sense that perhaps the person who made it is a tad embarrassed about the kosher aspect (or at least less proud of it than everything else in the film). All the activity against the fruit and veg section is cheerily filmed, captioned and commentated upon, but you have to look very closely to spot the “loads of kosher stuff”, boasted of – without a pause for contemplation – by the well spoken young revolutionary in his piece to camera, beginning at 14min 6sec into the clip.

The “loads of kosher stuff” appears only in stills. You can see the Sabbath candles at the top of the trolley in the photo at 12min 22sec; a photo including the “Kosher and Happy Passover” section sign is at 12min 25sec; and at 13min 51sec the boycotters look a bit sheepish as they stand in front of the stickered olives, chocolate chip biscuits and Telma consomme mix. (Mercifully, the pickles appear to be unscathed.)

Then, at 14min 0sec you can see the boycotters taking on a veritable nest of Israeli kosher iniquity that includes the Kedem grape juice enjoyed by Jewish children (and lucky adults) on Friday nights and festivals.

Target the kosher section of a supermarket and you get somewhere near the heart of the multifaceted relationship between Jews and Israel; and between anti-Israel activism and antisemitism. Give the matter any decent consideration and you immediately see how utterly inadequate the “is it antisemitic / isn’t it antisemitic” debate is to discussing the practical and emotional anti-Jewish impacts of anti-Israel measures. For example:

Who uses the kosher section of the supermarket and how will they feel when confronted with ‘boycott’ stickers and disruptions to the shelves?

Who is it that’s going to lose out if kosher sections have their Israeli produce removed? Or, if supermarkets decide the kosher sections simply aren’t worth the hassle?

And, how much worse are these impacts in places like Birmingham where you have small Jewish communities? These are communities where a viable and vibrant Jewish life for observant Jews is increasingly in question; and where those who wish to keep kosher are increasingly reliant upon supermarkets to stock such Jewish-related produce, a large percentage of which is of Israeli origin. 

If these boycotts succeed, then some smaller Jewish communities that want to have the Sabbath candles and the grape juice etc will just have to move elsewhere. (Either that, or organise deliveries from London and Manchester.) 

For now, however, the intimidation and isolation of Jewish customers is the only material outcome that can be assured to arise from the targeting of kosher sections of supermarkets for anti-Israel activity. The boycott movement (spurred on by a Jewish section that is relatively unattached to kashrut) obviously regards this anti-Jewish impact as a price worth paying in order to make its case…but they should understand why the majority of Jews will be left somewhat sickened by their behaviour.    






« Previous Entries