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CSG need not be a taboo topic

October 1, 2009 – 11:25 am11 Comments
Not the kind of community participation that the author has in mind. Source of image: Gothamist.com

Not the kind of community participation that the author has in mind. Source of image: Gothamist.com

By Rachel Sacks-Davis

Last week Galus Australis ran a column by Almoni criticising a recent Community Security Group (CSG) advertising campaign. Although I did not agree with the content of Almoni’s article, I was surprised at the number of commenters who challenged not only the content but the validity of discussing online anything related to the CSG. Not only was there reticence toward online discussion, but some commenters claimed that there should be no critical discussion of the CSG at all.

In the words of one commenter, Mark, “Anyone from OUR community who is critical of CSG for any reason is a naive and confrontational ignoramus. Subjects like this SHOULD NEVER be aired publicly. [Commenter’s emphasis.]” Another commenter, Shmuli, writesdiscussing our security in this type of open forum makes me quite distressed.” These commenters seem to believe that any discussion of CSG poses either a security risk or a public relations disaster.

Interestingly, the proposed moratorium on discussing the CSG does not appear to have originated from the organisers of the CSG themselves. Certainly, the CSG’s recent advertising was widely distributed through the Australian Jewish News, a publically available newspaper. Clearly those who organised the advertising campaign do not consider their existence to be a secret; nor should they.

Nonetheless, a culture of secrecy has been promoted by some CSG volunteers for a number of years. Anecdotally, I remember some volunteers who felt they could not tell their Jewish friends when they had CSG training, despite the fact that those same friends regularly saw them standing outside shuls. This culture is problematic and it contravenes the ethos stated on the CSG blurb on the JCCV webpage, “Communal security is everybody’s responsibility.”

Collective responsibility for community security should not just involve collection of funds, but rather broad participation and education about risk. This latter point is important because the vast majority of violent anti-Semitic attacks in Australia take place outside of major functions, synagogues, and Jewish schools, which are the main loci of formal CSG presence.

Given that this is the case, and that anti-Semitic incidents have increased in Australia in recent years, I believe that one of the most valuable things that the CSG could offer the Jewish community is community education directed at empowering regular community members to recognise risky situations, and better equipping them to respond, for example, through self-defence classes. This type of education could be targeted at groups who are most likely to become victims of anti-Semitism such as those who wear religious garb and are thus most easily identified as Jews.

From this perspective, the recent CSG advertising campaign may not have been productive because rather than provide community members with researched and useful information about security risks and measures, it opted for an image that suggests that every community institution is under threat.

The CSG leadership should encourage volunteers to be open about non-sensitive security information and CSG activity. This would promote broader community involvement and empowerment, and might also be a valuable way of engaging potential donors.

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11 Comments »

  • defensa says:

    Finally, someone talking real, rational and genuine sense about this topic. Well written Rachel. Let us hope that the so-called powers that be follow your lead, divorce themselves from a culture of secrecy and implement an inclusive and open ethos along the lines that you suggest.

  • The Hasid says:

    My sentiments exactly. Bravo, Rachel.

  • David says:

    I remember years ago, wanting to join CSG. I asked one of the volunteers how to go about it. I was told there were no volunteers – people were chosen for the task. I then asked how I could get myself on the list to be chosen from (as it was suggested that the list came from jewish school, whereas i went to state school), and was then told there was no such list. Every person I asked gave me the same run around BS answers. So 6 months later when the CSG advertised in The AJN for volunteers, I knew i was not worthy….

  • ariel says:

    I don’t think CSG is as secretive as it pretends to be.

    Everyone knows at least one person in CSG, perhaps more. Most of them don’t take themselves that seriously and will be forthcoming with information, often without being asked.

    A facade of secrecy is an important deterrent…

  • Almoni says:

    I’ve waited and waited for a further response from the CSG and even though it is Shabbat and some may still not choose to respond…But perhaps the Cone of Silence has come down from CSG.

    I realise my original post was strongly worded, and some issues won’t be solved through webjournalism.

    However, unlike Ariel, the fact that I know someone in CSG is irrelevant. Just knowing people isn’t enough to ensure the right thing is being done.

    I know personally know police too. I like them, & have partied with them (and yes, they can drink like very, very, large fish). But does that mean that I don’t need to know that they operate according to a code of conduct,and that all is above board? No. In fact, their code of conduct is public (see http://www.police.vic.gov.au/content.asp?Document_ID=676)).

    However, I still wait for an official public statement for all to see, on its website. There is no harm, from any point of view, for the CSG on its website to indicate the form of licensing it has. Is that a security issue? No. Is it a public confidence issue, yes. It only takes one rotten apple for all hell to break lose.

    Nor has CSG explained why it has run a scare campaign as a fund-raising method, particularly when it has charity status. That is what made me so concerned in the first place. Can CSG really expect such claims to go unquestioned, or accuse others of posing a security threat when they make the claim in the first place?

    As Juvenal said: ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’. Who guards the guardians? Until such time as the CSG makes clear its oversight mechanisms, we must be concerned. Perceptions count for a lot.

    As I have suggested elsewhere, if the police and ASIO have judicial oversight, there is no reason why the CSG, which believes it has such an important role and engages so many people in significant work, should not be subject to oversight by, for example, a retired judge, based on appropriate oversight models. There are a number of such people in the community who are used to dealing with all sorts of issues with the utmost of discretion.

    This would particularly appear to be the case because the work the CSG does crosses the boundary between private interest and public interest and this country has a raft of privacy and other legislation for which clear boundaries are set. If the CSG won’t talk to me, I would hope it would talk to a judge.

    But in addition to these comments, as Rachel suggests, if CSG wishes to empower people, it might choose to work with other threatened communities–for example, Indian students, or African young people, who bear the brunt of racial hatred.

    It would be an excellent community relations exercise, one that moves the perception away from an organisation that is setting up barriers, to one that is engaged in positive, and preventative for a wider range of people. And if the CSG is doing this work, kol ha kavod.

  • A. Richards says:

    Almoni – you just don’t seem to get it…if I were in a position of influence at the CSG, I would certainly tell all those involved to refrain from engaging with you. It is clear that you are not motivated by fact-finding or having a better understanding of the issue. Rather, you seek to sensationalise and belittle the hard work of so many vounteers.

    Your comments regarding the Indian community are a red herring – the raison d’etre of the CSG is to provide security services to the Jewish community.

    You ask ‘who guards the guardians?’. Whereas the CSG has named leaders, an address and a telephone number (not to mention AGMs and donors’ evenings), you prefer to cower behind a pseudonym, effectively removing yourself from any public accountability.

  • Michelle Levin says:

    A Richards – [Editor’s note: comment partially deleted because it disparages a specific individual in the community, and includes an ad-hominem argument.] There is never any gain in preserving the status quo, only in its advocation. In fact, if History has taught us anything at all (which it hasn’t) the only force in the universe more powerful than that of inertia is change itself. The mere pretence of the position to preserve intact an institution as draconian and fascist as the CSG belies an ulterior motive. However, while the fact of your ulterior motivation is obvious, the substance of it is less so.
    [Editor’s note: further text deleted due to ad-hominem argument.]

    Keyboard warrior – be gone with thee!

  • A. Richards says:

    Hi Michelle

    Thought I’d give you the benefit of the doubt and actually read your post twice but the second reading simply confirmed what there is zero substance to what you have to say and, as is fashionable amongst young people, you simply attack the messenger. Do not worry though, you will grow out of it one day!

    Chin up!

  • A. Richards says:

    Hi Michelle – please explain how the CSG is a fascist organisation? [Editor’s note: Ad hominem attack removed]

  • Michelle Levin says:

    Galus Australis? More like Gut-less Australis.

  • Judith says:

    “I believe that one of the most valuable things that the CSG could offer the Jewish community is community education directed at empowering regular community members to recognise risky situations, and better equipping them to respond, for example, through self-defence classes. This type of education could be targeted at groups who are most likely to become victims of anti-Semitism such as those who wear religious garb and are thus most easily identified as Jews.”

    I think this is an excellent suggestion. I often worry about family members who wear kippot, particularly the younger ones – it seems to me from all of the anecdotes I’ve heard that teenage boys are often the targets of slurs/fists on the street. (Chapel street, outside Glicks, etc.) Education about these issues is really lacking.

    While I strongly support the existence and actions of the CSG already, such a move would certainly engender greater trust among the doubters. I too would like to understand in greater detail how the organisation works (within reason – I don’t expect to be able to know everything) and would like to see the wider community be involved in some way.

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