In a keynote address to a newly formed Rutgers University program, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) told 34 religious and law enforcement officials from five countries that every faith-based community is vulnerable in “a world that is rampant with sectarian violence, where increased anti-Semitism threatens the security of Jewish citizens everywhere.”
Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke at Rutgers School of Law-Newark at the inaugural meeting of the Rutgers Faith-Based Communities Security Program.
The program, known as FBCSP, is supported by a $1 million grant from retired pharmaceutical executive Paul S. Miller of West Orange, a Rutgers Law School alumnus and Jewish community leader, through the Miller Family International Initiative Fund.
Its goal is to assist faculty at Rutgers’ Institute for Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security in identifying the security threats facing Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and other communities of faith by bringing them together with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.
The meeting including representatives of the FBI and Interpol — together with members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Sikh communities.
The senator’s speech was the only portion of the five-hour program open to the media.
Among the FBCSP sponsors are the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“Faith-based communities around the world are under attack,” Miller said as he introduced Menendez. “The time for only praying and words is over. They will not stop rocket-propelled grenades or shield our communities from suicide bombers. The time has come for local, national, and international law enforcement to join with faith-based communities around the world to protect faith-based communities, their institutions, their leaders, and their people from further attack.
“That is the goal of this program.”
Among the Jewish leaders attending the inaugural event were Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Jewish Secure Community Network, and John Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s New Jersey Region.
“Everyone has a right to worship in this country, and many people come to this country because they know they will be able to worship safely here,” said Goldenberg, whose organization coordinates security activities among Jewish institutions. “If that becomes an issue, where people do not feel safe, it becomes an issue not just for elected officials but for police chiefs and state police authorities. Communities are being empowered to participate as vocal partners to deal with threats to their safety.”
Rosen spoke to the ecumenical nature of the program.
“AJC realizes that the best way to combat anti-Semitism is to combat hatred of any minorities,” he said. “There is always a balance between protecting everyone’s rights and making sure we are all safe. I hope law enforcement would be very concerned about any infringements on personal rights.”
In his remarks, Menendez said he has made fighting bias crimes a personal priority since he served in the NJ State Legislature in the 1980s.
Noting that such incidents have doubled during the past six years, Menendez said, “More than five billion people live in countries where religiously driven hostilities have brought on more government restrictions. Religious minorities are becoming the target of both government clampdowns and societal violence. Sectarian values are undermining community values, turning neighbor against neighbor, and religious intolerance is exploding into intra-religious war and civil war.”
He called for increasing cooperation between law enforcement agencies and faith communities.
“We have a choice,” Menendez said. “We can ignore the challenges and the ugly face of anti-Semitism and that which relates to other religious entities as well that is on the rise both here at home and across the globe.
“If we do that, we do that at our own peril.”
Following his speech, Menendez told NJ Jewish News, “Law enforcement is working with communities to create a confidence that is necessary for those communities to share information about those who allow the extremist elements to pervert their faiths. That is critically important.
“Whatever my faith, I want it to be known that it teaches peace and tolerance to our fellow man, and I want to make sure that others can’t pervert it.”