Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Australia's Jewish community has legitimate security concerns

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In yesterday's Age, Barney Zwartz has reported on a former editor of the Australian Jewish News questioning the amount that the community spends each year on security.

[Former AJN editor Dan] Goldberg suggested the rising costs of security were helping push up education fees so that ever more money would be spent on protecting ever fewer children, as more families were forced to seek cheaper - non-Jewish - alternatives. "We have ramped up our security - walls, fences, CCTV, personnel - and battened down our schools so that some 10,000 kids attend virtual fortresses manned by armed guards."

Yet, he pointed out, the inconvenient truth was that the Jewish community had not faced a terror attack in Australia for 30 years, since the Hakoah Club and Israeli consulate in Sydney were bombed on the same day.

"Investing in security is an insurance policy ... but what's the use of an insurance policy if in generations to come there's barely anyone left to insure? If Jewish education is one of the most effective bulwarks against intermarriage and assimilation, then our insurance policy surely must ensure our children have access to affordable Jewish education."

Goldberg is undoubtedly correct in one regard: the community could benefit from extra funding for education. That said, the unfortunate reality is that the money spent every year on security for the Jewish community goes to countering a very real threat.

For starters, Goldberg's claim that the last terror attacks facing the Jewish community in Australia were  in 1982 is incorrect. As a matter of historical fact, the community has faced repeated attacks and attempted attacks in the decades since. A database of antisemitic incidents in Australia, maintained by AIJAC's Jeremy Jones from October 1 1989 to September 30 2011, includes 566 incidents of property damage to buildings and/or physical assaults on individuals; 1,180 incidents of harassment and intimidation; 679 telephone abuse and threats, as well as an additional 5,999 instances of other assorted antisemitic activtity such as graffiti, mail-born threats and dissemination of antisemitic material.

Some of the more serious incidents include:

  • 1990: one Jewish residential college in Sydney and two synagogues in Melbourne were firebombed, an additional Melbourne synagogue was set on fire.
  • 1991: A number of Jewish institutions were firebombed, including: Jewish Kindergarten in Melbourne; Sephardi Synagogue in Sydney; North Shore Synagogue in Sydney; Bankstown Synagogue in Sydney; and Illawarra Synagogue in South Sydney.
  • 1993: Illawarra Synagogue was again firebombed.
  • 1995: an arson attack was committed at a synagogue in Melbourne
  • 1998: an explosive device was placed in the mailbox of a synagogue in Sydney, however it failed to detonate.
  • 2000: an explosive device was defused at a synagogue in Bondi. Firebombs were thrown into private residences of rabbis and at synagogues in Canberra and Sydney on numerous occasions.
  • 2001: shots were fired at a Jewish building in Perth.
  • 2002: authorities intercepted a plot by an overseas terror group to attack a Jewish community centre in Melbourne.
  • 2006: Parrammatta Synagogue was twice attacked, with concrete blocks thrown at the door and projectiles thrown through the windows. There was also an attempted arson attack on Mizrachi Synagogue in Bondi, with oil-soaked logs being thrown at the building.

In addition to this, every recent local terror conviction has seen those convicted nominating Jews as a potential target. For example, Belal Saadallah Khazaal, who was convicted on terror charges in 2008 and was released this year, wrote and disseminated a "terror manual" including instructions on how to cause "havoc and horror" to Jews (emphasis added):

The NSW Supreme Court heard that under the nom de plume Abu Mohamed Attawheedy, Khazaal put together into book form a compilation of articles written by other people that promoted violence against Christians, Jews and non-Muslims and then had it posted on the internet site www.almaqdese.com.

... The jury was told that the first half of the book concentrated on religious teachings and rulings about jihad, while the rest of the book canvassed reasons, benefits and methods of assassinations. Among the countries on the hit list were Australia and the US.

The book contained references to previous successful terrorist attacks and to material from serious international terrorists including al-Qa'ida number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also included material that talked about how "small cells" could cause havoc and horror to the US and Jews alike.

Another example is in the convictions of the terror cell led by Melbourne terrorist cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika. Benbrika and his followers were arrested in a massive police operation in 2005 and 2006, codenamed Pendennis, having attempted to obtain large amounts of explosives and firearms and for plotting to attack high profile targets in Australia, including the 2005 AFL Grand Final. The court judgement reveals that Abdullah Merhi, one of Benbrika's disciples, was found to be in the possession of a Jihadi publication entitled "Jihad against Jews and Crusaders".

The other major terrorist case in recent history was the 2009 plot to attack Holsworthy army base in Sydney. It was reported last year that before being sentenced, terrorist convict Wissam Fattal was dragged from the court as he "ranted" about  "Jews, Palestine and Afghanistan".

The Zwartz article today also mentioned a number of international events that give the Jewish community in Australia cause for concern:

Many attacks in Europe, including those that were prevented, have Jewish targets, he says. "Jack Roche, the first terrorist put away in Australia, was asked by Osama bin Laden himself to attack the Jewish community, but he got himself caught.

"Mumbai [where 164 people were killed by Islamists in 2008] is the perfect example. If you look at what they attacked, it was multi-casualty targets - hotels, stations - plus a shitty little synagogue with about six people. Indian security recorded all the mobile phone conversations between the attackers and Pakistan, and they were told, 'Everyone you kill at the synagogue is worth 50 of everyone else.' That's a mindset that speaks for itself."

Jews around the world also vividly remember Iranians killing
85 Jews with a synagogue bomb in Buenos Aires in 1994, while rising anti-Israel rhetoric and the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign are fuelling widespread fear.

The Mumbai attacks in 2008 are especially illustrative of the particular hostility that the worldwide Jihadi movement feels towards Jews, even above other subjects of its hatred. As shown by this New York Times infographic, the al-Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Toiba attackers targeted large hotels, banks and Indian infrastructure, with the glaring anomaly of the tiny Jewish Nariman House. This was a small, family-owned guest house located relatively far from the other targets, which were all clustered together around the centre of the city.

Furthermore, as explained in The Perfect Terrorist, a PBS special on terrorist leader David Coleman Headley that was coincidentally screened on SBS last night, the terrorists attacking Nariman House were told that the Jewish people they were to slaughter were each worth 50 of the other non-Jewish targets (emphasis added):

"Every person you kill where you are is worth 50 of the ones killed elsewhere," a man believed to be Sajid Mir told the Lashkar terrorists at Chabad House in an intercepted phone call from the attacks, later broadcast in the HBO film Terror in Mumbai.

"This target was so symbolic," Deven Bharti, commissioner of investigations for the Mumbai police, told FRONTLINE. "Headley could locate that particular target and he could guide through his video coverage to all the terrorists who directly reached there and entered into that building.And it'd still be a major task because locating that building in the shanties there, it is very difficult. ... The location of Nariman House itself, you know, the common man of that area also never knew that this structure exist there."

While these attacks took place in India, they have a direct bearing on Australia. Jihadi terrorism is a global movement with a global ideology and Jihadis in Australia will be driven to replicate what they perceive as "successes", such as the attacks in Mumbai. For example, the Holsworthy plot is thought to have been directly inspired by a religious edict originating in Somalia which called for attacks on Australia.

Therefore, contrary to the sentiments expressed by Goldberg, the Jewish community in Australia is facing a constant and very real security threat, one which is much greater than that faced by the wider Australian public. It is not pleasant to send your children to walled-off schools with armed guards outside, or to have to hand over thousands of dollars for security at your community centre when you know that the money could be spent on more positive programs, but such precautions are an unfortunate necessity for Jews living in Australia today. "Successfully" conducted terror attacks have shattered Jewish communities in countries such as Argentina, Turkey and Venezuela in recent decades, seeing Jews subsequently avoiding any public expression of their identity or being seen visiting institutions such as schools and synagogues for fear of falling victim to another attack. Australian Jews would rather pour money into maintaining our safety than suffer the psychological trauma and damage to communal life felt in those unfortunate places.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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