European Jewish Communities Ramp Up Security Following Toulouse Attack

Jewish community leaders in Belgium, England and Italy express solidarity with France, while acknowledging Monday's shooting was not dissimilar to attacks their communities have faced before.

Revital Blumenfeld
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Revital Blumenfeld

Jewish communities throughout Europe have been ramping up security measures over the past 24 hours, in light of the fear that quickly spread since Monday morning's shooting in Toulouse.

"After what happened in France yesterday, police have been deployed outside all schools," said Sylvan Landau, who has been vice-president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Belgium for the past 40 years, and lives in the city of Antwerp. "We have raised the level of security to three, to a category of "severe", where the country's maximum is four. That was an initiative of the government. They don't want to take any chances."

A soldier patrols at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, Monday, Oct. 4, 2010.Credit: AP Photo / Remy de la Mauviniere

"Yesterday there were more telephone calls than usual from members of the community, but they were not panicked, because it's has already happened over here, unfortunately: a conflagrate bottle was thrown at a synagogue in Brussels a few years ago, and a grenade was set at the entrance to the diamond center before a bus carrying children to a summer camp 25 years ago," Landau explained on Tuesday. "There are no few problems with Muslims here, but there haven't been any bombs since then."

According to Landau, rabbis and community leaders were instructed by the Belgian government to send a warning message to their communities to avoid assembling Jewish children and to recommend children change the walking routes that they usually take to school or community centers, in order to prevent terrorists from following them. "We have 42 synagogues, community centers and a diamond branch in the city center. If police were deployed, anti-Semitism would increase, because people would say there are insufficient police in the stations because they're busy protecting Jews," said Landau.

In Britain, the Community Security Trust, a volunteer organization, is responsible for the security of Jewish community members. "We have about 3,000 volunteers who carry beepers and receive information about anything that might endanger the security of community members," said Mark Gardner, spokesman for the CST in Britain, on Tuesday. "We are on the highest level of alert because of the continual threat of terrorism by pro-al-Qaida organizations and, similarly, the potential of Hezbollah and pro-Iranians."

"We receive more than 1,000 calls each day, most of which are anti-Semitic, and today we received even more. Everyone is worried and shocked, but people understood quite quickly that it (the Toulouse attack) was a local action and not an international campaign," said Gardner.

Only eight months ago, the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism published that the past decade has seen an increase in anti-Semitism exhibited mainly in England, France and Canada. A report published by the CST in 2011 showed 586 incidences in England, which is the fourth-largest yearly figure since the organization began recording anti-Semitic incidents in 1984.

The Jewish community in Italy has also increased preventative security measures in light of Monday morning's attack. "Today and yesterday we received instructions from the community security authorities, who instructed us to not to go out to school gardens all week and not to balconies either, not to assemble outside at Jewish places nor next to schools," said Aliza Bidousse, a teacher at a Jewish primary school in Milano. "This is not the first time. It happens every time there's tension. The school was very stressed and disorganized because we needed to make decisive decisions quickly; the parents are very worried."

About two weeks ago, a Muslim youth was caught in the Milano area, who is suspected of having planned an attack on a central synagogue in Milano. According to local media, the youth worked with additional terrorists in England, who has not yet been caught.

According to Professor Amos Lutzato, head of the Jewish community in Venice, the community has taken the case as an international issue. "Tomorrow there will be an assembly at the synagogue that people outside the community have also been invited to attend, because events like these touch all Jewish and city communities – this is a very tough political problem that demands all those involved in politics to make decisions," he said.

Bandetta Reuben, from a Jewish student organization in Rome said there is always fear in the background when one is Jewish. "We are always scared and unfortunately what happened yesterday is not something new to us. We are always careful, for example when setting our meeting places, since we know that the danger is too great," she said.



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