Mark Gardner

We need calm and unity, not rumours and panic

We have extensive security in place - composure and determined resilience is what is required from you

October 19, 2023 13:29

I have a friend whose name you would recognise. When we meet, she asks me: “Are we safe?” It’s our running joke because of my job at the Community Security Trust. But it’s more than that. Especially now.

Everybody is asking: “Are we safe?”, but the question answers itself because safety is not only about physical security. One of the main reasons why terrorists murder children, women and men is to spread fear, literally to cause terror.

Physical and emotional safety are intertwined. We Jews are not naïve. Our fear is rooted in our history. We fear that history — our history of pogroms and worse — has again caught us in its evil grip.

CST colleagues and I are being repeatedly asked to “reassure” our community. We have done our utmost to meet that need and this opinion piece is part of that effort.

I “reassure” you that we have the best communal security effort in the world and that the government and police are rock solid with CST and our Jewish community. But do not mistake “reassurance” for a magical guarantee that nothing can happen.

Similarly, we are asked if it is “an overreaction” to hide our Jewishness. CST did not tell schools to shut. That was our professional intelligence assessment. Nor did CST advise for school pupils to be told to remove their uniforms.

But, I stress that I do not criticise schools, or parents, for making such decisions. The first thing CST staff are taught is not to judge anybody’s reaction to antisemitism.

Our job is to support victims. Our job is to get information to the police. Our job is to keep improving communal security decision-making by CST, police and government.

CST is not somehow separate to our community. We have more than 100 staff and over 2,000 volunteers.

Our children go to the same schools and universities as yours. We live and shop in the same streets, pray in the same shuls.

Our commitment to your security, to our security, is total. Staff and volunteers are working tirelessly, delivering the physical and psychological support that we all need.

We have an extensive security infrastructure at our schools, shuls etc. It took decades to build.

You might have thought it excessive, but it exists for times such as these. Yes, of course an antisemitic terror attack could occur any day of the year, but ultimately the security is there for when the risk escalates, as it has done now.

The same applies to our police and government partnerships, all in place for situations such as these. Policing in Jewish areas is now greatly increased, including for schools and children’s travel routes.

Where possible, police are at schools for opening and closing times. CST runs a 24/7 security control centre, with direct CCTV and radio links to hundreds of schools, shuls etc. It feeds to police control rooms and, from there, to police response cars.

Two police officers are currently in our control centre, with emergencies immediately communicated to them. In Manchester, four officers are dedicated to receiving incidents and reacting to them.

The prime minister, the home secretary and many more senior politicians are giving extensive support, including attending numerous communal events, often without publicity.

They have given a £3 million boost for guards to work at Jewish schools, shuls etc. This is in addition to the current £15 million annual guarding grant. CST manages the process, but the money pays for non-CST guards from commercial companies.

All the above, and much, much more, is being done to keep you and your families safe. What CST asks from you is that you try and find as much strength as you can.

Calm and determined resilience are what we need from you.

Do not spread alarm in WhatsApp groups with fake rumours. Instead, spread messages of support, comfort and unity. “Am Yisrael Chai” is no cliché. It is a reality — now more than ever.

Mark Gardner MBE is chief executive of the Community Security Trust (CST)

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October 19, 2023 13:29

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