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The Jewish Community Security Debate

January 31, 2012 – 9:42 pm40 Comments

Previously, Galus Australis (and The Sensible Jew) ran some articles concerning the Community Security Group (CSG). Some, but not all, of these articles were quite critical of the CSG and as a result heated debate not only about the specifics of the criticism but also about whether it is appropriate to discuss the CSG in public at all. One of the editors wrote this article defending open discussion on community security.

Following this episode, we were contacted by some of the organisation’s senior members who were concerned that such coverage could jeopardise the community’s security, and indeed we willingly removed a comment that inadvertently disclosed some confidential operational matters. Furthermore, after meeting with these representatives, we explained that we had no anti-CSG agenda, and where there had been negative articles or commentary, we were merely publishing content that had been submitted to us.

We encouraged them to submit a positive article about the CSG. However, they were of the opinion that when it comes to security matters, any uncontrolled publicity is bad publicity, and that’s fair enough. We agreed that failing any extraordinary incidents, there was little to be gained from running further CSG focussed articles.

However, with the huge double page spread in The Age today, this is clearly a topic that will again have the community talking. The main question raised being, What is the ideal balance between perceived security needs and the cost of Jewish education and community infrastructure?

It’s certainly time to have a community debate, and the comments section of Galus seems like a good place to start.

Please refrain from disclosing any security-relevant operational matters.

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  • Larry Stillman says:

    I was a participant in those debates in Galusaustralis over two years ago, and I suppose my view hasn’t changed. If there are threats, these are matters for ASIO and the police, not amateurs. We are not living in Israel where there are real terrorist threats. If there is such a threat, why do I see a troop of volunteers outside one synagogue engaging in eyeballing passers-by, at another, no guards, and at another, a couple of people having a schmooze?

    At least ASIO and the police public annual reports and have inspectors general or other oversight. The private CSG, as far as I know does not. We do not know to whom the CSG is reporting in Australia or out of the country and the probity involved. It is not enough to say that it reports to the ECCV or that it ‘liaises with police’. At the minimum, in the interests of probity, it should report to a retired Judge, of whom there are several well qualified to do this.

    Of course, with respect to education and security, tax dollars would be much better spent if state schools were for all kids, and ethno-cultural programs should be accommodated in after school programs or during school programs, and we are seeing that emerge in Hebrew studies at state schools, where they should have been years ago. I suspect that a very different and secure environment would emerge, saving a lot of money. Religious studies could be taught after school.

    In fact, it will be interesting to see if the Gonski Report to the Gillard Government will take on the massive private school industry (including Jewish and Islamic schools) which thrives on fears of social contamination, snobbery, and aspirationalism (look at the ads in the suburban weeklies). Thus, the question is not just one of should or if the Jewish schools need more security, but in the interests of social equity, should the schools of an affluent community receive state aid at all, or that this be capped to individual, means tested families (as with the stringent tests for Centrelink benefits)?

    Furthermore, as an effect of Zwarz’s article, am sure that many readers of The Age are quite puzzled as to why there is such a perception of being under siege in the Jewish community, when the reality is that it is materially and politically privileged, despite all the finger pointing at enemies, whether seen to be hiding in the community at large, in SBS, the ABC, the Fairfax Press, or with critics of Israel.

    Finally, and obviously, the major reason for the security ‘problem’ is Israel/Palestine. Talk to the government of Israel about getting out of the Occupied Territories for a start and perhaps there might be a real security benefit for Israelis and even for people in this community.

  • HarryJohns says:

    Larry, you aver that if Israel “gets out of the Occupied Territories” then “there might be a real security benefit for Israelis and even for people in this community”.

    Without wishing to start a political discussion on the merits or otherwise of the Israeli presence in what you term the “Occupied Territories”, the point needs to be made that antisemites do not need an excuse to attack Jews. Even if Jews were to assimilate fully into their surrounds – as unfortunately many did in pre-WWII Germany – and even if Israel was (G-d forbid) to cease to exist – Jews would still be the target of those who hate us.

    Our religious teachings have long been perceived as a threat (as evidenced by two millennia of autos da fe, Crusades, forced baptisms, expulsions, Chmielnitzky, pogroms, et al), as are our significant (material) achievements across the world. There is a rabbinic teaching that says that Esau will always hate Jacob, and unfortunately history has borne this out…

  • Marky says:

    Yes, prior to “occupying the territories” there was real security for Israelis and all of us..

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    I think that CSG can over-estimate the threat some time to defend it’s own existence.
    I don’t agree with a lot of things they do.

    But consider this…
    The cost of one security guard for 6 hours across Shabbat every weekend.
    The amount of Synagogues in the community
    The amount of security guards needed at each synagogue.

    It might costs millions of dollars to run CSG, but relative to the cost of all of those security guards that we would otherwise pay, it is a relatively cheap expense for the community.

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    Secondly.. if this is about Jewish education then you can start with Mount Scopus, which has fees that is $5000 higher than Jewish schools in Sydney according to the ajn last week.
    We all know everything in Sydney is more important so instead of blaming others for the cost of Jewish education maybe you should look within first.

  • Joe in Australia says:

    Larry, would you please pick a side from these contradictory positions you’ve adopted?
    a) There’s no security problem; or
    b) There is a security problem, which is Israel’s fault.

    a) Jewish kids should go to State schools; or
    b) An affluent community shouldn’t receive state aid.

    a) The government shouldn’t pay for private security; or
    b) ASIO and the police (i.e., government agencies) should be in charge of security.

  • Jewonthefence says:

    I am happy to support Daniel’s comments and amazed that Jewish schools are more expensive than Melbourne schools. And those at Sydney schools are definately getting a better deal as many fantastic and well trained Jewish Studies teachers from Melbourne have recently moved to Sydney schools.

    But to the topic…I think CSG is a bi-product of having so many South Africans here, before their large numbers we rarely felt at as much risk. They have transplanted the fear of dangerous Joburg suburbs to our sleepy Melbourne neighbourhoods. I contend that CSG is a great platform for continuity among our community(many have met their partners whilst on patrol) but the costs to the community are far too high.

    I maintain that I choose to live in a non-Jewish society, in doing so I place my trust in the capabilities of the local police force to step in and defend me as a citizen regardless of my Jewishness. Furthermore, we are all capable of making a citizen’s arrest against perpetrators and my understanding is that performing a citizen’s arrest is the extent of what CSG is allowed to do legally before police must step in.

    The only statistics I have ever seen that CSG is vital to our community are those figures produced by CSG themselves. I think we’ve been duped and dropped in to a vortex; CSG emphasizes that we’re under threat, CSG wants funds, CSG makes us feel at risk, we give to CSG, CSG saves the day!! And it goes on and on.

    The apparent victim as shared by the article is education. The idea that we could end up with armies of CSGs guys, fences, CCTV to protect dwindling numbers in our schools or shules or youth movements is the saddest outcome of all.

    CGS and alike’s emphasize on the threat against us is not helping to maintain our sense of self as a community, it is not helping to examine what being a Jew in the 21st century can mean and its really robbing the kids from being a part of an inclusive community that can educate its children regardless of the financial set their parents are a part of.

  • This debate isn’t about why we need security and what can be done about that by Israel or Australian foreign policy. It also isn’t about what sort of schools are best for Jewish children. It’s too easy to take Larry’s bait – let’s stay focussed.

    It’s about how to balance security needs with education/infrastructure costs.

    CSG suffers from the same problem any protection org does: it has no “measure” of success, so it’s impossible to know how much protection is enough. At some point, we have to put some trust in experts who advise on these issues. CSG does have oversight, but for security reasons, the people in those positions need to remain anonymous. They liaise with law enforcement and share information as needed. They are partially government funded, and part by donations from the community.

    I agree that they ought to be 100% government funded; if that was the case, there probably wouldn’t be an issue.

    So I don’t quite see how you can trade off security needs against other things.

  • Sam says:

    We should not overlook the deterrent effect that visible CSG personnel outside a synagogue might have on troublemakers of a minor nature, which is the much more likely scenario in Australia as opposed to the situation in Israel.
    If there is in a fact significant deterrent effect then we would underestimate the incidents that might have otherwise occurred. For the same reason, we would underestimate the benefits provided by CSG.
    I think that they do a great job and it is worth the relative small cost per shul member, as I believe that most charge a levy on top of membership.
    We cannot expect the police to do this job as then every church and every school would also be seen to be deserving, and that would not be plausible, either for manpower or cost to taxpayers.

  • frosh says:

    Thank you for reminding people what the debate ought to be about. You are quite right that it’s about “how to balance security needs with education/infrastructure costs.”

    In any such security or safety consideration, we need to consider diminishing marginal returns. It’s advisable to wear a safety helmet if riding a motorcycle, but I doubt anyone here would wear a safety helmet driving their car around the suburbs, even though it would very slightly reduce the risk of suffering a head injury in any given car trip. Likewise, it makes sense to wear a lifejacket if competing in the Sydney-to-Hobart, but it has a much more marginal utility if riding on the Manly ferry.

    Unlike some of the other earlier commenters, I do think there is a place for the CSG, and I do think that they contribute value to the community. My concern is that the CSG or some other community leaders seem to have a hyper conservative (and occasionally nonsensical, misguided, and/or over-zealous) approach (e.g. see here).

    In essence, we don’t need to get every passenger in a car, bus, tram, or train to wear a motorcycle helmet just because technically it would very slightly increase safety. But sometimes it feels like that is the approach being taken.

  • Shaun says:

    My conern is not so much with funds being provided for security, but whether the extent of the funds for security is really necessary. Is the extent of the budget for adequately securing jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues really necessary? Couldn’t there be some rationalisation?

    There doesn’t seem to be enough transparency about these costs, and the extent to which they are justified.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Joe, you are posing silly oppositional questions.

    But I come down on the side of professional law enforcement and oversight for such a sensitive issue. I have been in favour of that for several years. I am also pleased that Frosh raised the case of photographer Jono David and advice provided by the CSG.

    I also believe that private schools are by and large over-funded and have become an expensive industry unto themselves (Jewish or otherwise) and there are other options. I am also opposed to exam factories. Shared education and experiences are an engine for building a more tolerant society. The work of Jonny Schauder and others demonstrates that options are out there for working with the state system. http://www.jewishnews.net.au/hebrew-at-school-by-2012-2/23739

    The connection between Israeli /Palestinian conflict resolution and a better situation for Jews and Palestinians/Arabs in their diasporas appears too obvious to comment upon.

  • Sam says:


    I see you are onto one of your favorite hobby horses again!

    “The connection between Israeli /Palestinian conflict resolution and a better situation for Jews and Palestinians/Arabs in their diasporas appears too obvious to comment upon.”

    This is definitely OFF topic. What a stupid thing for instance to send a petition from the Aust. Jewish Community to Netanyahu urging him to quickly resolve the the ongoing conflict of at least 65 years, in his country so we can reduce spending on our security staff.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    You mean to say there is no connection between the situation in the middle east and perceived security needs? In general, it is off topic, but it’s a basic reason I think why all this exists (aside from the white fascists and racists).

  • frosh,

    But how does one measure the marginal return of X more security personnel? It’s impossible. Several people have suggested that CSG are “over-zealous”. So, how over-zealous are they? Should they reduce by 20%? 50%?

    You can’t compare it to, say, the number of police required to maintain law and order. In that case, there are crime statistics that often vary with the number of officers on patrol. So put more police out there, and there is less crime. There will always be some crime, so at some point, there is a diminishing marginal return on employing more police. In this case, the goal is zero attacks. Is anyone out there ready to tolerate anything other than that goal?

  • ariel says:

    It’s ironic that Rabbi Lord Baron Sir Jonathan Sacks is pictured in the Age article as it is he who has for years been advocating that we stop living in fortresses (of the mind) and assuming every non-Jew is a potential Nazi.
    They are not; in fact they probably are completely indifferent to us.

    This view was echoed by a retired CSG member who wrote in the AJN that CSG and the day schools foster a spirit of ‘they’re out to get us, let’s batton down the hatches’.

    I attended Jewish schools my whole life. When I was a young lad during the first Gulf War, the police came to our school and encouraged the parents to form a daily patrol around the school as there were credible threats to Jewish insititutions. So your argument that the police should be responsible doesn’t work.
    Furthermore, if the police did patrol all the Jewish institutions under threat, the Jewish community would be criticised for soaking up all of the tax-payers’ dollars which should go to “real police work”.
    It’s far better to have volunteers from the community do the security. The question is whether the extent to which CSG goes is appropriate and necessary.

  • letters in the age says:

    exam factory and a feeder school for monash caulfiled…………….

    don’t forget that larry et al

    should we also look at the weird behaviour displayed at uni and beyond when you work with graduates from some of these schools.

    thats another blog entirely.

    a gated mindset makes the students feel entitled and special where arrogance manifests into a dunning kreuger syndrome to say the least

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Letters in the Age– I don’t know what you mean. I don’t encounter weird behaviour other than that ordinarily displayed in a university.

  • Jewonthefence says:

    To answer Werdi, over-zealous by about 80% in my opinion.

    Letters in the age, weird behaviours? Dunning Krueger Synd, for sure! Would love to hear more.

    To give an example of their scare mongering tactics…In my past dealings in the JC I attended advisory talks held by CSG in which they felt it was immenent that youth movement camps would be patroled by teams up to 20+ of their guards(as done in dangerous areas of Sth Africa) in order to take place safely and without disruptions from outside. The impression was the wheels were in motion for this to happen…8 years later I haven’t heard any news of it.

    Yes, I’m grateful this hasn’t come to fruition but I can’t imagine the funds spent for their permanent staff to undertake the efforts to cook up such strategies which seemed really outlandish/from left field at the time and still do…

  • Reality Check says:

    Materially and politically privileged? Is that what we are Larry Stillman? Have we too much control and influence, is that what you’re saying? Because if it is, it would appear that you have been too heavily influenced by those who really hate us.

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    Why is this a security Vs Jewish education argument?
    Firstly – your basis is that you can’t have both but Moriah is $5000 cheaper for Year 12 than Mount Scopus. So – I say again – don’t ask other to lose funds because the organisations can’t get their own finances in order.

    Why not big channukah parade vs education?
    Why not donate money to JNF/UIA vs education?
    The cost of a seat in shule vs education?

    It’s easy to pick on security because you can’t quantify your value for money, but it doesn’t mean it is right.

  • frosh says:

    I agree with you that the risk is very hard to estimate.

    However, with regard to the aim being zero tolerance, this could be applied to the analogies that I mentioned. Ideally, we don’t want to tolerate the risk of a single fatal head injury from a traffic accident, or slipping in the shower for that matter. Nevertheless, no one I know of is wearing a motorcycle helmet when they are a passenger in a car (other than rally drivers etc) or when they get out of the shower. At some point, everyone has to accept that there is some risk in everything we do; and even with extensive security measures, we cannot reduce the risk or a terror incident to absolute zero.

    As for the optimal point, well that’s why we need a debate. I think when the security measures themselves become so extensive that they start impinging too much on the continuity and availability of Jewish culture/education, we need to rethink that extensiveness, particularly in the absence of obvious evidence of a high risk situation.

  • letters in the age says:

    May I mention that there are other community groups that are orthodox and have security around their schools, churches et al.

    What is of concern is the harsh “vigilante” style approach that people encounter, it’s not sophisticated but intimidating to say the least in SOME sectors of the community.

    Where is this “extensive” research and hard evidence..?

    Melbournians are the most well educated people in Australia and its only for a couple of ill-informed “bogans” that cause real trouble.

    “The cost of a seat in shule vs education”…….

    …your places of worship are derived from the greek word meaning “meeting place” and there is a FEE involved for that…?

    Its hilarious, no other religion in Melbourne goes down that pathway….


  • ariel says:

    letters in the Age,

    synagogues are funded by their members. when you pay annual membership fees, you get a dedicated seat for days when there is high demand.

    i’d love to know how churches are funded and how they allocate seats.

  • letters in the age says:

    Its an exam factory, but the real question to be asked is does it attract intellectuals…?


    Many seats have been passed on form one generation to another, with some of the more established synagogues adopting this system of inheritance. St Kilda comes to mind, correct me if i am wrong.

    There is still a payment method, whatever system is implemented with all due respect to the above comment.

    I’m not privy to what exactly goes on now but in the past it seemed a strange way to operate.

    A member in one of the more progressive synagogues had the audacity to comment that the jews are like “no other religion” with extreme arrogance on one occasion.(silly)

    ethnocentric and hilarious!!

  • ariel says:


    re the passing on of seats from generation to generation, this is part of Halacha. it forms part of inheritence laws I believe. your great-grandpa bought the seat and therefore has the right to bequeath it to the next generation, etc.

    Jews are like no other religion, because we’re not a religion. We’re a nation with a legal system developed over 1000’s of years and there happens to be a religious aspect to all of this.

    I laugh at those who ridicule the concept of “Jewish Law” when it is those laws which spawned the majority of British Common Law which we all believe is so important.

  • letters in the age says:

    Many thanks for that reply Ariel!

    Those values of inheritance within that context must have ramifications sociologically and otherwise i’m sure……

    Food for thought.

    Interesting to say the least in my view and a great way to save costs and a nice clique is formed!!


  • Dalit says:

    Three concerns re CSG:

    1. The veil of secrecy surrounding the nature and gravity of a threat undermines the (paying) community’s ability to make any informed decision about whether or not there is a need for millions of dollars to be devoted to this service. The “I’d tell you but then I’d have to shoot you” mentality leaves no room for any accountability. Surely this is the stuff of secret police forces in communist dictatorships. Furthermore, it allows those in the Organization to manufacture threats and then create more jobs for themselves and demand more money.

    2. Not only does an organization such as the CSG cultivate paranoia and parochialism, it is especially negative for its members, for whom the only Jewish activity in their lives is focussed on antisemitism and the possibility of violence against Jews. This needs to be counterbalanced by positive engagement in Jewish life and Jewish identity building – through learning, engaging with our rich heritage of ethical enquiry, spirituality, etc. There is more to Jewish life and identity than antisemitism. If Jewish heritage and culture are not cultivated, then there will be nothing left that is worth defending.

    3. Why is it so unreasonable to expect trained professionals, such as the police, to ensure that law and order are in place? Australia is one of the greatest democracies on the planet, and we should have faith in its ability to protect its citizens. Where one member of society is threatening to harm another, then it is up the the government to protect its citizens. The above mentioned story about the Gulf War Parents Protection Unit is merely anecdotal. There is nothing to suggest that our police force is not capable of tracking and preventing hate crimes.

    Surely, it would be better for the volunteers do something more productive with their time, such as to ocus on cultivating positive Jewish identity through Jewish learning. Or, to fight violence and prejudice by engaging in cultural exchange with other communities in Australia – especially those that may harbour more hostile views towards Jews. We don’t need a paramilitary when we have a perfectly functioning democracy with a generally effective police force. We’re not in Chelm anymore.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Dalit. Don’t you know, we are in Chelm a lot of the time. Said partly in jest, but partly with an air of scepticism.

  • Noah says:

    Many years ago, I was an original member of CSG. The aim of the group was: to provide a visible deterrence as a first and last resort, utilise intelligence from a variety of sources in order to encourage existing Commonwealth and State resources to provide appropriate protection, provide education and training to communal groups to promote security awareness.

    I feel that CSG has now unfortunately expanded beyond this original role.

    CSG rapidly evolved to provide reactive physical deterrence.
    CSG now even provides proactive physical deterrence.
    This evolution is problematic. Although legal, this capability is eroding the relationship with Government bodies at both an organisational and individual level.

    I witnessed this at a recent event. State provided resources told me that CSG deployed resources equivalent to their own. The individuals of the state resource expressed concern as it impacted on their own safety and decision making, which ultimately would have a negative impact on the State reacting in a timely, appropriate and impartial manner.

    The state based individuals felt that CSG had crossed the boundary of our State’s Constitution, conventions and way of life.

    I strongly feel that CSG should dispose of some of it’s physical resources immediately.

    CSG members should really limit themselves to being the “canary in the cage”. This was the selfless ideal upon which original members of CSG joined.

  • helen says:

    This is absolute garbage. Reading the age article and hearing about this,another win for the security industry and political point scoring for aijac maybe? – All it’s about is instilling a false sense of security in our children, an age when we have never been safer. What have we become Melbourne???

  • Reality Check says:

    And since when have we been that secure Helen? When you see a story in the paper about some lawyer ripping off his clients, I straight away look to see if he/she is Jewish, and I bet many other Jews, secure or not, do the same thing. It’s just that these security people are doing a good job. If we didn’t have the security measures in place and if, G-d forbid, there was an attack, you would be singing a different tune. I prefer to err on the side of caution.

  • helen says:

    Better be safe than sorry of course reality check but please to say you’re not secure in Melbourne as the most live able city in the world that is multicultural …?

    That’s a sad world that some live in , i don’t ever check to see their Jewish, I’m over that identity crisis inferiority complex syndrome.

    shalom and stay safe!!

    [Eds: Hello, to whatever your real name is, we have asked you several times in the past to not use multiple pseudonyms within a single thread. It appears that you are commenting under “Helen” as well “Letters in the Age”. If you think we are falsely accusing you, please email us using your real name and from a real email address so we can clear things up. In the meantime, some undecipherable comments you have left (as “Helen”) have been marked as spam and thus removed.]

  • Reallity Check says:

    I do envy you Helen. Living in fools paradise is a beautiful thing.

  • Reality Check says:

    Well check out this weeks Jewish news and see that people think of YOU

  • ariel says:

    Reality check, I also check if names are Jewish because i’m a product of the system (I also get embarrased when they are Jewish because they have committed a Chillul H).

    However, contrary to what most of us in the Jewish community believe, non-Jews are not spending their waking moments thinking about Jews and Israel. In fact, most of them couldn’t care less and wouldn’t know if a name was Jewish or not.

  • Reallity Check says:

    Indeed ariel, maybe your average Joeblow won’t care, but it sure gives heart to anti-Semites, and gets them out and about defacing Jewish places sprawing racist graffiti and so on.

  • Reallity Check says:

    And occasionally whacking a Jew.

  • Eliyohu says:

    There is a lot of work to be done in the area of security, and visible guards are only one level. A LOT of the important work in security is done “behind the scenes”. This is a general rule, in no way related to the CSG in particular.

    A hard issue in security (but one which must be faced) is that it is not possible to maintain a long-term extreme level of vigilance. Whilst there may be indicators of an increased threat level at times (indicating a need to “ramp up”), figuring out when to “scale down” (i.e. the threat level has reduced) is a very tricky and sensitive job. Again, this is a general comment.

    As to the relationship between CSG and “state resources”, I don’t know the behind-the-scenes details. I’d be interested to hear what these “state organizations” would like CSG to actually *do* (rather than not do). Where do they feel that CSG *can* be more effective than themselves?

    Note that CSG’s job is to protect to community – it is not a private militia! CSG don’t go hunting down suspects and arresting people. That’s clearly a police job.

    For comparison’s sake, the ambulance paramedics I have spoken to all seemed to genuinely respect the work of Hatzolah, and other community emergency response teams. Paramedics are all too aware of the limits of the ambulance system’s resources, and welcome help from those who have the skills to be helpful. (“Stickybeaks” and “ambulance chasers” are an entirely different story. They usually get in the way, rather than helping).

  • Larry Stillman says:

    By way of comparison, the cuts in funding in the US need to be considered. http://tinyurl.com/7z4aobo. The funds involved also seem to be quite small as compared to Australia.

    Does this mean that a) the threat is great in Australia? b) the politics of ‘security’ are very different between the US & Australia? Also see http://www.forward.com/articles/142550/, and readers’ comments to this and other article in the Forward. Fascinating.

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