More visible European anti-Semitism, increased anger towards Israel and a rise in Islamist extremism have led to the expansion of the security infrastructure around U.S. Jewish institutions, with thousands of synagogues, student centers and other places seeking equipment and training to defend themselves against potential attacks.
Last month’s attack on a Jerusalem synagogue popular with Americans is the kind of thing that spurs U.S. institutions to look at their security. Since 2004, a primary clearinghouse for information and training on how to handle potential threats has been the Secure Community Network – a nonprofit created that year to beef up security at U.S. Jewish institutions.
The group, founded by several major Jewish institutions, also created an information-sharing network meant to connect Christian, Muslim and other faith groups to help one another if they learn something about a hate group that could potentially threaten others. It trains people on things including how to know whether to hire private security if you are attending or participating in a demonstration.
This month, the Network created and distributed a guide for Jewish groups on college campuses – including Hillel student centers and Jewish fraternities – that Network co-founder Paul Goldenberg said was a response to more intense anti-Israel activism on campuses.
“Why should Jewish students having a Sabbath dinner on a Friday night at a Hillel be in fear? These are American kids,” Goldenberg said Thursday in an interview about the new guide. “In the last couple years, Jewish centers that are part of the American fabric, houses of worship that are 100 years old are becoming lightning rods for people inspired by what happens or doesn’t happen in the state of Israel. And U.S. synagogues are becoming targets because of alleged association with what’s going on 3,000 miles away.”
The most recent FBI hate crime data is for 2013, and shows – as has been true for years – that the overwhelming majority of religious hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies target Jews and Muslims. The 2013 data say 60 percent of the 1,166 offenses reported targeted Jews, while 13 percent targeted Muslims. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitism, said in April 2013 that the total number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States was one of the lowest levels since the group started keeping records in 1979 — but that there was a significant increase in violent attacks from the previous year.
The Network often partners with the Department of Homeland Security but is privately funded, Goldenberg said, through two major Jewish organizations: the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Goldenberg was recently named chair of the DHS’ Foreign Fighter Security Task Force and also sits on the DHS Faith-Based Security and Communications Advisory Committee.
Salam Al-Marayati is president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is part of the information-sharing network. He said Muslim organizations since Sept. 11 are also hiring more security staff and installing more cameras.
Muslim groups have been very interested in government-run training sessions, he said. However, “not a single mosque” has received government funding available to individual houses of worship to beef up their security. The U.S. Muslim community, he said, is “still in the conceptual phase” when it comes to fundraising and organizing on the topic of security, and is still building systems.
“The world is so much more polarized even than five years ago that now houses of worship are more concerned about their security,” he said Thursday.
The Anti-Defamation League has for decades also been publishing material on security and encouraging Jewish institutions to form bonds with law enforcement.
ADL’s director of civil rights, Deborah Lauter, said that the concept isn’t new but that “we’re all doing a more effective job.” Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she said, law enforcement has been more committed to working on hate crime issues and the Jewish community has been more organized as well.
Asked about the increase in security even as incidents have been decreasing for years, she said: “Well, it’s not clear. Are incidents down because we’ve been doing a better job?”
The name of Secure Community Network co-founder Paul Goldenberg was misspelled in an earlier version of this post. The post has been updated.