Chabad faces an uncertain future

By Anshel Pfeffer and Yaakov Katz, December 4, 2008

Israel does not plan to provide security for Chabad Houses around the world, defence and diplomatic officials said this week.

One diplomat said: “Chabad is not an official Israeli government agency and there is no way we can treat them differently to other Jewish communities operating abroad.”

The attack in Mumbai was the first time that Chabad had to face a threat worse than local antisemitism. Chabad leaders have since approached Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, asking that the government take responsibility for their security, arguing that Chabad Houses around the world cater for thousands of Israelis.

While the Mossad does have a department that deals with the safety of Jews worldwide, it is the Shin Bet that is responsible for Israeli embassies and consulates overseas. The Jewish Agency has its own security department for its personnel and buildings. According to a top official in the Israeli Counter-Terror Bureau (CTB), no agency has the resources to begin securing hundreds of Chabad Houses.

“This is way out of our league,” the official said. “What we can do is provide Chabad with advice and guidance on matters of security. That is something we have done in the past and will do more in the future.”

One recommendation that the CTB has made to Chabad is that, in Asian countries with terror threats, all of the houses should be moved from independent free-standing buildings to offices which have better security and are more difficult to take over. Menachem Brod, Chabad spokesman in Israel said: “We are now working on improving our security arrangements, so that in each place our people can be prepared.”

Some Chabad buildings, especially those in Europe and the former Soviet Union, are well-guarded but this is usually through private arrangements. The movement is undergoing severe financial difficulties as a result of the global economic crisis and will have trouble finding the necessary resources.

Chabad houses operate in over 3,000 places around the world but those currently under risk seem to be the ones in South Asia. Chabad in Bangkok has had security guards for the last few months after warnings that it might be a target for terrorists.

Last updated: 2:31pm, December 4 2008