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Armed and Sometimes Wrong

September 17, 2013 – 11:21 am3 Comments

By Alex Fein:

bomb2He was wearing a large knitted kippah and visible tzitzit.

It was Shabbat eve and he was blithely swinging a plastic bag containing challas as he walked down Balaclava Road. As he was passing a large shul, he was stopped by a member of CSG – the Melbourne Jewish community’s volunteer security organisation – who was standing guard

“What do you have in the bag?” The CSG operative asked him.

“A small thermo-nuclear device,” answered our kippah-wearer.

“Don’t joke about things like that!”

Our kippah-wearer thought about asking the CSG operative who the hell he thought he was, but decided to ignore him and walk away instead.

That incident happened a decade ago; however, there still seem to be elements of the CSG culture that are problematic.

A couple of years ago a young man decided to poke fun at the CSG on Facebook. He divulged nothing operationally sensitive, yet considerable pressure was brought to bear on him to take down the post. The parents of the young man – who was of voting age – got a phone call.

At Mizrachi early minyan, religious CSG volunteers occasionally come to pray and provide security at the same time. But when they don’t, irreligious volunteers come at 9:00am, flash torches under the bima and aron hakodesh, and occasionally get in the way of the chazzan.

While some may argue that these Shabbat violations are necessary for security, others might contend that early minyan starts at 7:30am, leaving an hour and a half for terrorists to run rampant.

Then there was the incident involving a bill for over $3000 that was sent to a shul for services rendered by CSG. The only problem was,  that shul never requested CSG’s services and has always organised its own security. The shul’s treasurer threw the bill out and ignored the reminders CSG kept sending her. She eventually received a phone call demanding payment. The treasurer was neither impressed nor inclined to reconsider.

That was a couple of years ago. This year, on Kol Nidrei, CSG – presumably offering a free service this time – decided there was an incident at this shul. A woman wearing pants and a back pack was seen walking in and a young CSG volunteer contacted his boss. The boss walked into the shul during the sermon. Rather than stand inconspicuously at the back of the shul, the CSG head – with a very visible ear piece – stood right in the middle. At the conclusion of the sermon, he asked the shul’s President about this woman, who, it turned out, was a regular congregant and paid-up shul member.

Other incidents and examples of extremely poor judgement can be read here, here, here, and here. Rachel Sacks-Davis also wrote a fantastic piece calling for greater transparency.  CSG personnel and supporters contend, however, that any such transparency would compromise the organisation.

There’s reference to threats and nefarious goings on, but precious little evidence for these threats. There is simply no way of knowing whether we even need an armed community security group while such secrecy is maintained.

One would imagine that UK Jewry’s situation is far more perilous than ours; yet their community security organisation is quite transparent. Their website clearly sets out their programmes and provides an annual antisemitic incident report. Compare the detail of the UK group’s activities with CSG’s website.

The CSG people I spoke to for this story were extremely polite and as helpful as they were able to be. While  it’s important to note that volunteers give their time to protect the community, there does seem to be a sense of paranoia and entitlement informing  certain CSG members.

They sometimes get things wrong.

They have training, but they are not professionals.

And they have guns.

It takes one mistake with a gun to destroy the precious peace that characterises Jewish life in Australia.

We have a right to ask whether CSG is creating an environment in which a self fulfilling prophecy might occur.

***

CSG has been contacted and has elected not to comment on the issue regarding Kol Nidrei this year. They have been invited to reply to this article.

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3 Comments »

  • almoni says:

    It sounds like nothing has changed and possibly got worse since my post nearly 3 years ago on Galus.

    I’m glad that you have raise the issue of accountability and lack of transparency (again). The Victoria Police, an armed force, are responsible to their Minister and others and deliver an annual report. The same applies to the armed forces of course. Even ASIO and other agencies like ASIS are accountable and it is ASIO and others which are the country’s trained intelligence and counter-terrorism experts.

    There is no excuse for a private armed force which is working in the community’s interests not also be accountable. And as I have suggested in the past, it could be made account to, for example a retired judge of which there are a number who well understand issues of security and law enforcement. In fact, it may not be appropriate for CSG to be engaged in the way it is, including bearing arms in crowd situations. One can go past one synagogue and see a swarm of security, and past another, and the gate is wide open. Is CSG acting selectively in its own interests? There is obviously something odd going on.

    There is no reason for the CSG to regard itself as a body which should not be accountable for its actions when it engaged in considerable and tax-deductable fundraising.

    The only way at the moment the CSG can be held accountable is through the Licensing Division – Regulation Support of Victoria Police, but I understand that they are understaffed and overwhelmed.

    I am aware that at least one lawsuit has been brought against the CSG.

  • Joe in Australia says:

    Are you sure about the guns? I haven’t seen them.

  • David Langsam says:

    The “insecurity” squads of children who want to grow up to be Special Agents are a waste of space and are an empty leftover of John Howard’s War on Tourism, when he turned half our airports over to private security guards and took knives and forks from Amanda Vandstone.

    The first point is that we have NO EVIDENCE of any real terrorism in Australia. The couple of mega show trials of mad Muslims who thought they might blow up an army barracks has been unconvincing. Yes, they thought about it, but were apparently encouraged to come up with plans by undercover agents, not unlike the Special Branch and ASIO provocation in the anti-Vietnam War days.

    As one who, in an earlier life, interviewed some of the world’s leading “terrorists”, Australia is just not on the map for external threats. “Austria?” “No, Australia.” “Oh, Kangaroo?”

    Like the Russell Street bombing on Easter Thursday 1986 (on which I reported from Russell Street) there is a threat from odd mad people and perhaps Geelong-based football fans in busses … driven by off-duty policemen.

    So this whole anti-terror apparatus appears to be a nonsense. It is NOT evidenced-based, it is bogeyman fear-based.

    As for the CSG, I have unfortunately had several incidences in which they have been an embarrassment to the community by their officiousness.

    One incident at St Kilda Shul, later described by Rabbi Heilbrun in the AJN as a serious security incident, which apparently caused the cancellation of a bar-mitzvah, was nothing more than an old workers ute parked where a shiny BMW or Mercedes should have been. The CSG children tried to stop me entering the street, I warned them that they had no right to do so and spoke to the Victoria Police sergeant in charge. I showed him there were no wires or packages in the back of the ute, some McDonalds wrappers and an empty Big M and a copy of the Sun-Herald in the front. Flashed a torch through the grill to show just a normal engine and did one press up to inspect under the vehicle. Nothing, gurnischt, nente. How the CSG justified their actions, I don’t know.

    An elderly man collapsed with a full cardiac arrest at TBI. After we revived him (it’s a shul, doctors, we have)and called an ambulance, I went to clear the way for the paramedics. The CSG person was obstructive and wouldn’t clear a pathway. I had to ask Shul officials to deal with him.

    At Toorak Shul a young woman was sitting on the grass opposite the shul when the CSG approached her and gave her a hard time. They didn’t know that she was herself a security guard and martial arts expert and the daughter of the security officer at the Shul, sitting on the grass looking at the world. To them this was suspicious.

    Again at TBI a woman arrived one Shabbat morning and was clearly a little tense and wanted to come in and pray. The security guard demanded to see her “ID”. He acted as if he was El Al security firing questions at her brusquely. She was distressed by his attitude and I simply escorted her into the shul, discovering along the 20 second walk that she had very good reason to be at TBI. I was also aware that one of our members inside the shul was ex-AIF and that he was kind and gentle and very capable.

    I introduced the two to each other and I believe she is now a regular attendee – she might even be paying membership fees, including the ridiculous ‘CSG levee’.

    Again at Toorak, a front window was broken during the working week. Clearly an opportunistic act of local vandalism and not quite a self-immolation. Members pay the CSG levee of a cumulative thousands of dollars a year, possibly tens of thousands, but the shul had no CCTV, so the vandal got away.

    So what actual use is the CSG? In my experience they are more of a hazard than a help. They do not welcome people to the shul, but stand around being self-important. At one service I had to ask them to put on a kippah and stop talking into their microphones – or go outside.

    I have refused to pay the CSG levy and if more people did, we might be safer. I see nothing wrong with individual shuls having a roster of people to watch the front door on Shabbat and other services, but the amateur Special Agents are surplus to requirements. I don’t actually have any evidence of their utility.

    I have had police sergeants in anti-terror units tell me that if I saw what they had seen I would be convinced, but no one ever provides any evidence of the real threat. Indeed, all the evidence is to the contrary.

    Be alert rather than alarmed, a little man once said.

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