Armed and Sometimes Wrong
By Alex Fein:
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.