As an invited guest from the US, it was fascinating to observe the gathering at Grosvenor House last week as reportedly 1100 of the leaders of Anglo Jewry and their political friends and supporters assembled for the annual CST dinner. It spoke volumes to the high regard in which CST is held by the community and by public officials. It also demonstrated the extent of the British Jewish community's willingness to financially support the vital security functions performed so effectively by the CST.
There is one troubling issue, however, that kept reoccurring as one listened to the speech of Prime Minister David Cameron, and watched the compelling film that was presented describing the activities of CST. In considering the work of the organization and the extraordinary evening, this observer kept asking, "Why is the state so derelict in its responsibilities to protect its citizens? Why must the Jewish community spend as much of its charitable resources as it does on the physical security of its synagogues, schools, community offices, social service facilities and its leadership, a function that one would assume would be a paramount obligation of the State?"
This observation was already made several years ago even more bluntly by the Labour MP Denis MacShane. Speaking about CST, Dr MacShane remarked: "It is not right for any group of British citizens to dig into their own pocket because they feel there is not adequate protection for their right to express themselves religiously or culturally." In other words, regardless of how effective CST is in protecting the Jewish community, its use of incredibly generous charitable resources for functions that the state ought to be performing is wrong on its face as well as a misplaced use of charity.
This observation in no way impugns the activity of CST in its role as the foremost operation in the UK in fighting anti-semitism and domestic anti-Israel activity. The work and the job performed by CST, in protecting Jewish institutions as well as in the fields of information gathering, research, monitoring, data collection, education and community leadership in this area is critical to maintaining the welfare of the Jewish community and facilitating the activities of all law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities in Britain.
Based on the Prime Minister's remarks at the dinner, as well as the comments of the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, shown in the video, this government appears to understand precisely what the state's obligations ought to be. As had been previously announced, Cameron reiterated his Education Secretary's pledge to provide £2 million to protect Jewish schools in Britain.
This is a dramatic shift on the part of the government but, as Gove admits and the Prime Minister stated, "It shames our country that our Jewish schools should need protection. But they do." He then added that there "…will be more to come for all the years it's needed in our country."
As CST and the community leaders recognize, while this is a very positive move, it does not cover the protection costs.
Once again the question emerges: how can CST and the Jewish community permit any British Government to perform so inadequately its fundamental function of protecting its citizenry?
The Jewish community grants governments and police a pass based, at least in part, on budgetary constraints to perform the very job for which they exist: protecting citizens.
Admittedly, economic life is difficult and improving the motorway system or modifying the NHS or funding other welfare programs are important. The priority, however, ought first to be citizen protection. Increased funds for protecting Jewish schools is a good start but what about synagogues, communal institutions, comprehensive police surveillance, and the areas where there is traffic to and fro to these places; especially pedestrian traffic on Shabbat and holidays.
The government should also be encouraged to provide similar protections to all religions and their institutions, with increased funding for the police to enable them to better perform their work.
Such an initiative, if the Jewish community took the lead, could engender a very positive perception of the Jewish community in the eyes of those of other faiths. The political benefits to the government, should it respond favorably, would be obvious.
CST has an enormous job to perform for the British Jewish community. It needs to intensify and accelerate its activities as a research and monitoring organization. Given relief by government from performing the physical security function, CST could be even more effective in its data development, analysis, and recommendations as how to truly address antisemitism, terrorism and radical Islamism.