CSG Needs Accountability Too
By Anthony Frosh
The Community Security Group (CSG) performs an important function for the Jewish community. In the current state of global affairs, the role of the CSG has become more vital than ever. The vast majority of CSG personnel are committed volunteers who give up their valuable time to attend physically and mentally demanding training sessions, as well as to be on duty, which can be both a boring and thankless task, often involving standing outside for long periods in unpleasant weather. For these reasons, I would encourage everybody exiting a shul or community event to thank the CSG personnel on duty.
Having said all that, a righteous contribution from the majority does not excuse an abuse of power from even a small minority. Over the years, I’ve heard of a few cases in various parts of Australia where people who were not at all security threats were denied entrance to a shul or community event. In none of the previous cases was I well acquainted with the people or the situation, and so on each instance I was inclined to think “well, there was possibly more to the story than what I’m being told.”
However, earlier this month, such a situation occurred in Perth where I was well acquainted with the person denied entry and so I decided to investigate. I made my own inquiries with the head of the CSG in Perth, the administrative leadership of the shul where the incident took place, and I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a couple of independent and highly credible witnesses. From all this, I am confident that the facts are not in dispute.
Here are all the essential and relevant details. Please note that I’ve written this account so as NOT to disclose the identities of ANY parties involved in this incident, including the CSG guards. It is strongly requested that any comments on this site or on social media respect this.
The person, a male in his late 40s, well groomed and well dressed for shul, arrived by design after the service, but in time for the kiddush sponsored by a family member for a family simcha. According to an independent witness I spoke to, he was intercepted by the two young CSG men on duty with a sabbath greeting and responded with a laid back “G’day.” According to the witness, the CSG guards appeared to react suspiciously to this greeting of “G’day” (obviously not the reply greeting they were looking for). According to the head of CSG in Perth who I also spoke to, the guards were suspicious because of his arrival time.
So, just to summarise the FULL list of suspicious activity that this person exhibited, which qualified him for denial of entrance to a family simcha:
- Arrived late for shul
(Did these CSG guards think people arrive on time from shul as they do for the cinema?)
- Responded to a sabbath greeting with a “G’day”
(i.e. apparently identified himself as likely non-Jewish or otherwise unaffiliated. Did these CSG guards also think non-Jews cannot enter a shul, not even for a simcha or associated kiddush ?)
After initially being denied entrance, the person gave the name of the family that he was connected to with regard to the simcha. The CSG guards responded that they’d never heard of that family, and continued to deny the person entrance until they had no other choice but to leave the premises.
At no stage during the conversation with the person did the CSG guards attempt to verify the person’s identity. Why one of the guards did not simply go inside the shul foyer and ask one of a hundred people at the kiddush who could have verified the person’s identity remains an essential question the CSG has yet to answer.
If the above is not appalling enough, the conduct of the CSG guards subsequently reached a further low.
On leaving the shul after the kiddush, a young woman, highly involved in the Jewish community, and known to the CSG guards was stopped and asked if she knew the family that the person had mentioned. The essence of her reply was “Yes, of course, they’re connected with the simcha and they are related to me”. According to this woman, the reaction of the CSG guards to her reply demonstrated that they immediately realised they had made a terrible stuff-up.
However, despite now having the knowledge of their error, they have not contacted the family and/or person involved to apologise. If I had had a supreme moment of stupidity as they had suffered, then I think I would have been around at the person’s place that night with an apology and a large case of the finest cider!
Furthermore, I spoke with the head of CSG in Perth on the Monday morning after the fact, and at the time of going to press, he nonetheless has still not contacted the affected party to apologise on behalf of the CSG. Is there some security protocol that prevents offering an apology?
I happen to know that at the shul where this incident took place, the rabbinic leadership, as well as the lay and administrative leadership have a strong desire for the shul to be a very welcoming and inclusive place, not just to members, but to all visitors. I have personally witnessed the head rabbi at this shul perform enormously generous acts toward exactly such purposes. I also know one board member, who I would count as a personal friend, who also works tirelessly with such aims.
However, it is a reality that at many if not most shuls, including this one, the first and last (and sadly, in some cases, the only) faces a visitor to the shul sees are those of the CSG guards on duty. It is therefore incumbent on all CSG guards to be cognisant of this fact, and to realise the implication of this. For visitors to a shul, especially visitors who are either not Jewish or just not very affiliated, rude treatment by the CSG (to say nothing of complete denial of entry) will have a major impact on the way they perceive the entire Jewish community.
Again, I want to re-iterate that in my experience, the vast majority of CSG people do a great job, are very polite, and are driven by their concern over the particular security threats that the Jewish community faces. However, if even a small minority are corrupted by a desire for self-importance and to assert their authority, then the level of damage they can do is untold.
Finally, as a community, we should recognise that the aim of the CSG is to prevent situations that are very low probability but with severe consequences if they were to occur. These situations are difficult to predict and counter, therefore we should expect that false positives can happen from time to time. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the CSG leadership in each locality take ownership when such mistakes do occur, apologise to affected parties, and put in place processes to reduce the risks of such mistakes re-occurring. If the CSG will not do this of their own initiative, then perhaps it is time our community, which funds the CSG, puts in place an Ombudsman.
Anthony Frosh is a board member of a shul in Melbourne as well as a former volunteer with the CSG.