Michael Whine: The abiding threat to Jews worldwide
Michael Whine is Government and International Affairs Director of the CST.
A recent report by the Community Security Trust, the charity which advises the British Jewish community on security, makes sobering reading. Terrorist Incidents against Jewish Communites and Israeli Citizens Abroad 1968-2010 lists attacks and foiled plots in 57 countries over this period, with the largest number occuring in France (51 attacks), the USA (34 attacks) and Italy (33 attacks). Jewish communities were the targets in 250 attacks or foiled attacks, whereas Israel-linked institutions and individuals were the target in 189 cases. Of the former, synagogues were the targets of 88 actual and attempted terror attacks, while Jewish schools were targets on 16 occasions.
The early 1980s saw the highest number of attacks, which coincided with the largest number of terror attacks against all other targets. This was the era of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist terror groups that evolved out of the post-1968 New Left movement, which received help from Soviet Bloc states and which forged ideological and tactical alliances with Palestinian terror groups.
Whereas the early years of the period covered in the report were characterised by shootings and the use of improvised explosive devices delivered to buildings as letter or parcel bombs, the intermediate years by car bombs and the latter by suicide bombings, the worry now is of multiple site armed attacks, or "swarming", such as happened in Mumbai in November 2008, and which would possibly have been replicated in Poona and in Kerala in 2010, had not the plots not been foiled by the Indian security forces.
Perpetrators come from across the extremist political spectrum: from neo-nazis, to Marxist-Leninists, anarchists, Palestinian and other Arab nationalsists, Khomeinite revolutionaries and radical Sunni Islamists. Many terrorist groups that target Jews are rooted in political ideologies that incorporate antisemitism into their world view. Belief in a Jewish or Zionist conspiracy is common to the ideologies that drive most groups that attack Jews or Israel, and the idea that Jews, Zionism or Israel are preventing the creation of a better world for all is common across different ideologies.
Also, these terrorists make no distinction between Jewish and Israeli targets outside Europe, either in their ideology, their propaganda or - most importantly - in their targeting. A prime example was the bombing of the community's welfare agency in Buenos Aires in July 1994, which left 85 dead and several hundred wounded in its wake. We now know that this was planned by Iranian government leaders, with the help of members of the local Lebanese community, and neo-nazi sympathisers in the police, but it is thought to have been a retaliation for actions taken by Israel against Hizbollah terrorists.
In more recent cases, the Fertiliser Plot terrorists (Operation Crevice) were found to have been targeting synagogues, as well as the Ministry of Sound nightclub and the Bluewater shopping centre, and the group which bombed trains at Madrid's Atocha railway terminal also planned to attack a Jewish school and a youth club in the Hoyo de Manzanares suburb of the city. Chillingly, a group of neo-nazis planned to bomb the opening dedication ceremony of a rebuilt synagogue in Munich in 2003 on 9 November, the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The ceremony was attended by the German president, Johannes Rau, and many government ministers, and had the police not seized the explosives and weapons, it is just possible that the government would have been decapitated, along with the leadership of Germany's Jewish community.
Fortunately, governments and their law enforcement and security agencies have now come to realise that Al Qaeda, its affiliates and those who subscribe to its ideology, pose a specific and separate threat to Jews and Jewish institutions, in addition to the threat to society in general. This has had important implications for Jewish communal security, and communities occasionally receive discreet warnings to enhance security at community buildings . The damaging impact that a successful mass casualty attack would have on Jewish communal life is inestimable, and this is one reason why Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere invest so much money and effort in physical security at their communal buildings.