The murder of three Israeli teenagers turned a regular meeting of the Homeland Security Committee of the State Association of Jewish Federations into a plea by a security expert for greater vigilance at Jewish institutions.
“I’ve learned what a resilient community we are, but resiliency can go only so far,” said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Jewish community’s Secure Community Network, addressing the committee July 1 at the offices of a Newark law firm.
He told the Jewish leaders to “have a crisis management plan. How will you get out of the building? How will you communicate with the police? Who is in charge? How will we save the children?
“Know how to get out alive,” he continued. “That is what we want. Train your volunteers. Train your teachers. Train the members of your community…. Every single one of us needs to take direct part in the safety of our synagogues, our centers. Question their security.”
The SCN, which helps Jewish organizations protect themselves from terrorism and other threats, is an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Goldenberg said administrators of Jewish institutions “need to be rocked if they are not doing everything they should be doing. We need to be thinking about building a culture of security, not a culture of fear.”
Also speaking was Daniel Kurtzer, the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University.
Kurtzer, a former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, told the committee, “Israel is not set back as a result” of the three murders. Rather, it continues to build and continues to grow.”
“As much as we’ve seen Israel grieving,” said Kurtzer, “and as much as we’ve seen Israel angry, and as much as we’ve seen the desire on the part of some to fight back and to push back, we are also going to see that Israel grows stronger.”
Kurtzer also warned against Israeli government overreaction.
“Whatever else Israel may decide to do in response to terrorism, there are also calls to expand settlements, there are also calls on the part of some government ministers to take unilateral actions to annex part of the West Bank. Others are arguing that this is exactly the wrong time to translate a situation of grief and national solidarity into a situation in which Israel once again would become divided over political issues,” he said.
Kurtzer recalled the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s response to the 2001 suicide bombing that killed 15 people at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem.
“Sharon, in the hours after a terrorist attack, would want to unleash the full power of Israel’s military and destroy everything out of anger,” said Kurtzer. “It was only after he considered the politics, the diplomacy, the national interest, and Israel’s priorities that he made more informed and more deliberative decisions.”
Kurtzer said he “both hoped and assumed that the maturity of Israel’s government will also prevail…. It will also understand that at this moment of national solidarity and international solidarity of the Jewish community outside Israel this may not be the moment to create divisiveness.”