21 December 2011
An influential UK charity denounced Jewish critics of Israel in secret reports to the government earlier this year, The Electronic Intifada has learned.
The Community Security Trust (CST) is known for its work recording anti-Semitic attacks and for security patrols at Jewish communal events.
But evidence uncovered by The Electronic Intifada suggests the CST works behind the scenes with an assertively pro-Israel agenda not stated in its charitable remit. There are also serious questions over the CST’s links to the government of Israel and, allegedly, to its intelligence services.
The Electronic Intifada contacted the CST and inquired about these points, but representatives of the organization declined to comment.
In a report sent to government department the Home Office, the CST denounced several “anti-Zionist British Jewish individuals and groups” as “extreme groups,” claiming they were “unrepresentative of the vast majority of British Jews.”
Dating from August, the report was primarily an attempt to help the government in its court case to deport Palestinian political activist Raed Salah. The report expressed concern that certain Jews had “voiced support for Salah,” recommending that the “extent of their credibility to speak on these issues should be considered.”
The CST denounced as “extreme” well-known Palestine solidarity activist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta. The report highlights that Wimborne-Idrissi is secretary of Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods.
Use of the term “extreme groups” is significant. It’s a phrase the CST usually reserves for violent far-right groups such as the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18; or for Islamic political groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The CST sent a second document to the Home Office at the same time titled “Neturei Karta & Raed Salah” as part of a larger dossier. This four-page report suggests the group is guilty of everything from Holocaust denial to “defending” a 2008 terrorist attack against Jews in Mumbai.
Both texts formed part of the Home Office’s defense against Salah’s attempt to resist deportation. In September, a civil servant testified in court that the CST had been its “principal source.”
The full text of both secret CST reports can be read in the blog post accompanying this article.
The Electronic Intifada sent copies of the reports to the activists attacked in the documents and asked for comments.
Rabbi Yacov Weisz of Neturei Karta UK replied that the report was “pure lies” and “absolute nonsense.” He said it was no surprise to find the CST trying to marginalize his organization. Weisz said the CST was a provocative organization not wanted by many in his own Orthodox community in Stamford Hill, London, since it “plays into political Zionism.” He said there is a problem with racism in the UK, but it could be directed at Muslims just as much as Jews.
Wimborne-Idrissi said the CST does not like the fact that Jewish critics of Israel are becoming more numerous and vocal.
“Our existence shows that organizations like the Board of Deputies [of British Jews], the Zionist Federation and CST cannot legitimately claim to represent all Jews,” she told The Electronic Intifada. “We give the lie to their insistence that defending Israel is central to Jewish identity and that to defend Palestinian interests against it is synonymous with anti-Semitism.”
In a statement, IJAN said the CST was “known to many as the Zionist police… We would ask who but racists would call opposing all forms of racism ‘extreme’? It is the CST that is ‘unrepresentative’ — most of the world does not support Israeli apartheid, including a substantial and rapidly-increasing number of Jewish people.”
Lauded by government
As demonstrated in The Electronic Intifada’s coverage of the Raed Salah case, the CST has strong links with government departments — especially the Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government. In some areas CST volunteers jointly patrol with the police.
It has also been lauded by politicians at the highest levels of government. Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have both given speeches at black tie CST dinners this year.
Founded as a charity in 1994, the CST had several notable predecessors. The Group Relations Educational Trust (GRET) was founded by Gerald Ronson in 1978. Now CST chairman, Ronson wrote in his memoir Leading from the Front that he hoped GRET would “operate as a sort of umbrella organization” for the 62 Group and other militant anti-fascist groups.
The 62 Group was a street-fighting Jewish activist group formed to combat the rise of neo-Nazis in the 1960s. It reportedly specialized in infiltration and intelligence gathering.
Ronson wanted to distance GRET from such militant direct action approaches. He wrote that although he was the chief fundraiser for the 62 Group and “I was once a foot soldier out there fighting on the front lines,” he increasingly came to think that “being hooligans to fight hooligans wasn’t the smartest way.”
The CST’s immediate predecessor was the Community Security Organization — part of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In 1994, it broke away from the Board and established itself as a new charity — the Community Security Trust.
Trained by Mossad?
Antony Lerman, founder and former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), told The Electronic Intifada that CST volunteers had in the past received self-defense training from Mossad, Israel’s overseas spy agency.
Mossad is perhaps most well known for its assassinations of Palestinian intellectuals, activists and fighters around the world. It is thought that the Mossad was behind the 1972 Beirut car bomb that murdered writer and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine activist Ghassan Kanafani. In 1986, Mossad agents kidnapped Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician turned whistleblower. More recently, it was thought to be behind the murder of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, in which the killers used forged passports as part of their operation.
But Mossad also claims to protect Jews, says Lerman. “On one level you can understand why” CST trained with the Mossad, he said. “One of the things the Mossad believes that it should be responsible for is Jewish security all around the world.”
The Electronic Intifada had a wide-ranging conversation about the CST with Lerman. JPR ran the first project to monitor anti-Semitism in a human rights fashion, he added. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Lerman had “very close relations” with GRET and, later, the CST.
In the early 1990s “the Israeli government was trying to exert control over the monitoring of anti-Semitism through diaspora communities around the world,” he recalled. Lerman and the CST both resisted this, preferring to remain independent. They were “quite angry with the way the Israelis were handling this kind of thing.”
The Israelis’ list of anti-Semitic incidents “was appalling stuff,” he added. “I wouldn’t say at that time they were so much into exaggerating the problem, but they just had no real feel for what anti-Semitism really was. They would take any kind of incident, anything that involved Jews often would sometimes go down as an anti-Semitic incident when it hadn’t [really been one] and often they would miss anti-Semitic incidents as well.”
The Israel Government Monitoring Forum on Anti-Semitism at that time operated through representatives at embassies throughout the world, and “they were mostly Mossad representatives,” said Lerman.
“During that time the CST … felt they needed to keep good relations with the Board, with the Israelis, with the Israel embassy … [but] they were broadly supportive of our position throughout the 1990s,” he recalled. “During that time my experience with them as a whole was rather good.”
This didn’t last. “My relations with them began to deteriorate at the end of the ’90s and from 2000 onwards,” he said. “I from the beginning was never in agreement with this idea of the ‘new anti-Semitism.’” But the CST was “very much behind that kind of line.”
Lerman is a noted critic of this “new anti-Semitism” line. Writing earlier this year, he described it as “the notion that Israel has become the Jew among the nations and that therefore extreme criticism and anti-Zionism are a new version of the anti-Semitism that existed prior to the establishment of the state.”
He added, “The entrenchment of the concept of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ [has] so extended the range of expressions of what can be regarded as anti-Semitic that the word anti-Semitism has come close to losing all meaning” (“The farcical attack on the UCU for voting against use of the EUMC ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism,” Antony Lerman’s blog, 2 June 2011).
Conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism
Lerman’s is far from the only Jewish voice critical of the the CST. Tony Greenstein is a Palestine solidarity and anti-racist activist who has blogged extensively on the CST. He has frank criticisms of their methods. “The CST has a long record of barring anti-Zionist Jews from meetings and harassing them,” he wrote on his blog in January 2009 (“Community Security Thugs Bar Jewish Opponents of Gaza War from Liberal Judaism Meeting”).
While leftist critics such as Greenstein allege the CST exaggerates or inflates its anti-Semitism figures, Lerman disagrees. “They’re not making up the numbers, it’s what they do with the information [that’s more problematic],” Lerman said. “It’s the role that they play behind the scenes with government, it’s the connections with the Israelis — whether it’s lobbying on their behalf or not, they’ve got very close relations.”
Lerman still gives the CST credit for the rigor it uses when deciding which incidents to record as anti-Semitic and which to reject. He said that it does not record incidents as anti-Semitic unless it is absolutely sure. But the “new anti-Semitism” logic means they will be predisposed to see an anti-Israel statement as being anti-Semitic, he added.
What its critics tend to agree on is that the CST conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Its latest report describes anti-Zionism as “in effect anti-Semitic” (Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2010, 8 December 2011 [PDF]).
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi said the CST “try to undermine our credibility by noting that we are small in number. They cannot acknowledge that growing numbers of Jews are breaking with the unquestioning loyalty to Israel that has been the norm in past decades.” Wimborne-Idrissi was barred from a 2009 “liberal Judaism” meeting by CST guards.
Greenstein has accused the CST of thuggish behavior against Jewish critics of Israel, and has written that CST security volunteers guard pro-Israel demonstrations and events. “Its stewards looked benignly on as the EDL [English Defense League] joined a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in August 2010 to celebrate the murder of nine unarmed activists aboard the Mavi Marmara,” Greenstein wrote on his blog (“Community Support Trust supplies false information to deport Sheikh Raed Salah,” 3 October 2011).
Lack of transparency
Although the CST claims to represent the Jewish community, it has asked for a special dispensation from the Charity Commission so that the names of its trustees are not publicly accessible (most charities in the UK have the names of their trustees listed on the Charity Commission’s website). A spokesperson from the Charity Commission said such dispensations were only given in “very exceptional” cases, such as for women’s shelters where the trustees were thought to be “in personal danger.”
However, in May 2003 the CST established a private company called Support Trustee limited. The Memorandum of Association filed at Companies House in Cardiff says Support Trustee limited acts as “trustee, custodian trustee, nominee or director of or for the charity Community Security Trust.”
According to documents filed at Companies House, the current directors of Support Trustee Limited are: Keith Black of the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), Lloyd Dorfman (chairman of the Travelex currency exchange group), banker and UJIA trustee Jeremy Isaacs, solicitor Brook Land, property investor Gary Landesberg, former chairman of the British division of Jewish educational group ORT Mark Mishon, CST chairman Gerald Ronson and accountant Jeremy Trent. Its secretary is CST Chief Executive Richard Benson.
A multi-million pound operation
CST chairman Gerald Ronson is a property magnate and the multi-millionaire owner of the Heron Group. Accounts on the Charity Commission website show that Ronson’s charitable trust has donated almost £500,000 ($780,000) to the CST since 2007. In the early 1990s, he was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in the “Guinness affair.” This was a share price inflation scam The Daily Telegraph has described as the best-known British stock market scandal of the 1980s (“Famous stock market scandals,” undated).
In a 2009 interview with The Jewish Chronicle, Ronson claimed to have friends at the highest levels of the Israeli government: “He received a phone call from the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and met [current Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu, at the time a minister in Shamir’s government, while on a day-release for a medical examination,” the article states (“Interview: Gerald Ronson,” 4 June 2009).
Greenstein described the CST as “a well-paid gravy train.” Accounts available on the Charity Commission’s website show the CST spent £5.3 million ($8.3 million) in the year ending December 2010 — £2.1 million ($3.3 million) of this was on salaries and wages. It is thought to employ 64 staff, some full-time on security issues.
Last year the government announced £2 million ($3.1 million) in new funding for security at Jewish faith schools. The CST’s Chief Executive Richard Benson wrote in The Jewish Chronicle that this came in response to five years of CST lobbying (“Let’s recognize our friends,” 22 December 2010). Antony Lerman said the schools are likely to give the CST an advisory role in how the money is spent.
The CST and “infiltration”
In April and June, historian Geoffrey Alderman wrote two pieces for The Jewish Chronicle taking the CST to task for being unaccountable to the community. “What right does a completely private body that happens to call itself the CST have to involve itself in the safety and well-being of British Jews?”
Alderman is a Zionist and hostile to the Palestinian people and their supporters. In May of this year, he wrote a column saying nothing had caused him “greater pleasure in recent weeks than news of the death of the Italian so-called ‘peace activist’ Vittorio Arrigoni,” the International Solidarity Movement volunteer murdered in Gaza (“This was no ‘peace activist,’” The Jewish Chronicle, 13 May 2011).
In one of his columns, Alderman made reference to a more “murky dimension” of the CST’s work — possible “infiltration” of “extremist organizations” (“Our unrepresentative security,” The Jewish Chronicle, 18 April 2011).
What does Lerman think of that accusation? “I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” he replied. “What I am absolutely certain about is that they’ve got connections with people who have [infiltrated]. So whether that’s through Searchlight or others, I’ve no idea”
Searchlight is an anti-fascist organization and magazine which has long been criticized by anti-fascist activists on the left for allegedly strong links to intelligence services and law enforcement entities. Its central figure, Gerry Gable, was involved in the 62 Group with Ronson.
In 1980 The New Statesman magazine published the “Gable Memo,” a secret memorandum to Gable’s then bosses at London Weekend Television. In the 1977 memo, Gable makes various accusations against a journalist, Phil Kelly, and infamously concluded: “I have now given the names I have acquired to be checked out by British/French security services … I may try somebody in the Israeli Foreign Office.”
Gable’s accusations against Kelly included that he “acted as a cheerleader on several Arab demonstrations in London” and “he could have blown the cover of a man who had infiltrated the Palestinians and some left groups” (“The Gable Memo,” Lobster, December 1992).
When the Raed Salah case came to the attention of the British government, it called on the CST for information. As reported in detail by The Electronic Intifada, government departments asked the CST to send information on Salah that they could use to ban him from entering the UK.
As Salah prepared to go to the High Court hearing that would ultimately release him on bail, the CST posted two Jerusalem court indictments against Salah on its blog. Both related to old incidents (one from 2007). And both were dated 23 June — the exact date that Home Secretary Theresa May said she banned Salah (“Sheikh Raed Salah: The Indictments,” 6 July 2011).
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the Mossad,” said Lerman. “They had close relations with the Mossad when I was working with them, and I’m sure that they still do.”
A freedom of information request to the UK Border Agency sent by The Electronic Intifada in July was finally answered this month. A request for a copy of the original banning order signed by May was denied on data protection grounds.
Israeli government links
The Israel Government Monitoring Forum on Anti-Semitism with which Lerman was at odds in the early 1990s now has a successor body called the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism. The forum’s website lists the CST as one of the “members of the forum” along with the Anti-Defamation League and the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Lerman said that CST volunteers “go along at their own expense to guard Jewish sites and meetings and things of that kind. Well they get training, and I believe that the training has been done in the past by people from the Mossad, who come over and give them training in self-defense and that sort of thing.”
How likely is it that the CST lobbies politically for Israel behind the scenes?
In September, the law on universal jurisdiction was changed, making it easier for Israeli ministers and generals charged with war crimes to visit the UK. The Jewish Chronicle published an article quoting the Board of Deputies as acknowledging “the efforts of the various communal groups, in particular the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Board of Deputies, CST and Friends of Israel groups that have helped to ensure the safe passage of the bill.”
But “CST” was soon removed from the online version of the article, apparently after spokesman Mark Gardner intervened (see The Electronic Intifada’s correspondent Ben White’s screen capture).
Though Lerman’s relations with the CST have deteriorated, he thinks it unlikely that the CST would lobby for Israel in any way that would contravene its charitable status. “It would have undermined the role that they are trying to play on the issue of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Having said that, the very fact that they support the ‘new anti-Semitism’ kind of arguments … [means] they are doing the work of the Israel government, because it … is a very strong Israel government line.”
CST declines to comment
For its part, the CST has previously denied acting on behalf of Israel. Of its role in having Salah banned from the UK, the CST stated: “We did not do this on behalf of Israel or in pursuit of Israel’s policy objectives.” It said its only concern is anti-Semitism.
The Electronic Intifada wrote to the CST and asked the following questions: Why did the CST denounce Wimborne-Idrissi, Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network as “extreme”? Why did the CST do so privately not publicly? In light of Alderman’s “infiltration” comments, can you give assurances you are not involved with the infiltration or subversion of pro-Palestinian activist groups? In light of the allegation that the CST has received Mossad training, what is the current nature of the CST’s relations to the Israeli intelligence services? Did Israeli authorities help the CST with its case against Raed Salah?
The Electronic Intifada enclosed the part of the Salah report that denounced anti-Zionist Jews.
Despite having been given several days notice in advance of publication, the CST did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A phone call to the CST office three days after the original email request produced “no comment.”
Nevertheless, the CST will need to respond to these serious charges eventually. In court in September, UK Border Agency case worker Jonathan Rosenorn-Lanng referred to the CST as “the Jewish community” — yet it is clear the group does not represent the entire community. The British government should ask itself how appropriate it is to maintain such strong links to an organization so politically compromised.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who writes about Palestine. His website is www.winstanleys.org.