Comment: ‘We need help protecting our Jewish schools and buildings’

Mike Freer MP outside Golders Green Synagogue. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Mike Freer MP outside Golders Green Synagogue. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The Member of Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, writes on his push for more government funding to help protect Jewish buildings:

Just after the last election in 2010, the Government created a new fund to help any state school implement security measures – usually security guards – where there was an increased risk of an attack.

Primarily to support Jewish schools but in fact the fund is open to any state school that the Police would view as at risk of attack. However that fund doesn’t extend to the many independent Jewish schools. Why should the Government use taxpayers’ money to help pay for additional security at independent Jewish schools?

Firstly, a terrorist isn’t going to differentiate between a state school and an independent school. An attack would simply be based on the calculation – which schools are the easy targets, how much carnage could be achieved and which would provide the best publicity for their cause?

Secondly, the parents of children at these schools are taxpayers too and above all our children should be able to go to school in safety.

Finally, the first duty of government is the protection of its citizens, that’s been the common view for centuries. From Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Regan. That is why at Prime Minister’s Questions (February 4) I asked David Cameron if the Government would consider creating a special fund to help meet the cost of counter-terrorism measures at Jewish Schools and other communal buildings.

Recent events in Paris literally terrorised us all. Terrorised in the true sense of the word. Just after the terrible murders of journalists at Charlie Hebdo and of the shoppers in the kosher supermarket, I attended the induction of the new Rabbi at Finchley United Synagogue. The additional security was evident but so was the hushed talk about what would happen next, or more accurately, who might be the next target.

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After the service we were asked to disperse quickly and not congregate. I then started to receive messages asking when would we have armed police officers on Golders Green Road and/or outside Kosher Kingdom? I heard that parents were keeping their children from schools. So for a time, the terrorists won. They have instilled a state of fear and we subsequently changed the patterns of our lives - we allowed ourselves to be subjugated. This is in spite of the amazing support of the Police, the CST and Shomrim.

As the days passed, the tension may have eased, but hasn’t gone away. So what next? On a practical level, we must also look at how we can help communal buildings, not just schools – in north London we are home to Jewish cultural centres and museums. They already have built in significant security, but that is at a burdensome cost. The Government should look at providing financial assistance here too. No-one should have to be at risk.

Yet in a free and democratic society we can never eliminate all risk. We cannot and must not allow ourselves to become besieged; living behind high walls with CCTV and security guards. We can take sensible precautions but - to use an old wartime phrase - we must “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

So whilst I am arguing for help with sensible security measures, I’m not arguing we should make our homes, schools and cultural centres fortresses.

I have personally been subjected to attacks by an extreme group during one of my constituency advice surgeries.

Although only threatening behaviour and verbal abuse, I remained calm and I didn’t budge from my seat. I’m not sure if I was brave or foolhardy, but the fact I showed no fear in their presence made the extremists angry but more importantly showed them that I wouldn’t be intimidated.

So now, we must all face-down attempts to intimidate us. Not just by carrying on our daily lives, but challenging attempts to divide our communities. We must also refuse to tolerate casual racism and anti-Semitism. We must challenge anyone who uses language or behaviour that is unacceptable. With the exception of armed terrorists, most racists and anti-Semites will back down when challenged. We must challenge careless reporting that justifies anti-Semitism by making crass links with the Middle East conflict.

We must stand up to intolerance and the fear it breeds. If we don’t, then there will be no-one to stand up for us.