Don't panic - in the UK we make security a priority

By Richard Benson, March 22, 2012
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It seems almost wrong to stress, while 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 the attack.

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, gates, fencing and other security hardware are upgraded or newly installed. This has cost CST millions of pounds in charitable donations.

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 killings, at a small school, is that 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.

CST has improved security at hundreds of locations

As for our children, thanks to supportive MPs, 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 incidents 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. Not a day goes by without some form of communication and co-operation.

It is not for me to compare our communal security with that of other countries. Everywhere has different resources and political contexts, some highly complex after the Holocaust. 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 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 several 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.

Richard Benson is chief executive of CST

Last updated: 10:31am, March 28 2012