EXCLUSIVE: MICHAEL MASTERS — Securing the Jewish Community as Anti-Semitism Soars
Securing the Jewish Community as Anti-Semitism Soars
Safety Czar Michael Masters leads Jewish organizations through dangerous times
By: Felice Friedson/The Media Line
Michael Masters’ responsibilities as the man overseeing the safety of America’s Jewish community at a time when anti-Semitic acts are becoming every day occurrences are daunting. He comes to the job with experience as one of the Chicago Police Department’s top guns and directed Homeland Security for Illinois.
The Media Line’s Felice Friedson spoke with Masters by telephone about the rise in anti-Jewish hate crime and what the community needs to do for its part. [AUDIO OF INTERVIEW AVAILABLE]
THE MEDIA LINE: Welcome to The Media Line and joining me is Michael Masters, who is the National Director and CEO of the Secure Community Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents. Michael, antisemitism and antisemitic acts are in the news with greater frequency than we have witnessed in a very long time…why now?
Michael Masters: Well, unfortunately, members of the Jewish community know, antisemitism and hatred against the Jewish community is as old as our faith and it stretches back three thousand years. Clearly, we have seen in the United States a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes. The highest level of hate crimes directed against the Jewish communities in decades, near historic numbers. The attack in Monsey, New York with a machete, wielding individual bursting into the home of a rabbi during Chanukah, was the thirteenth such incident in three weeks and the sixth consecutive day of an attack or assault or act of antisemitism in the New York area. We clearly have an increasing, rising issue that needs to be addressed and that’s what we’re working to do.
THE MEDIA LINE: Is there an identifiable catalyst to new antisemitism?
Michael Masters: The reality is that we see individuals motivated to undertake antisemitic attacks and hate crimes, targeted violence ranging from all ideologies in a variety of motivating factors. The individual, most recently in New York who undertook the attack in Jersey City was associated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. The individuals in Monsey, the investigation remains ongoing. Motivators, over the course of the last fifteen, sixteen years, the number one offender or group that has attacked the Jewish community, committing acts of violence that resulted in loss of human life, attributable to violent extremism comes from the far-right white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.
THE MEDIA LINE: To your credit, the Secure Community Network was being created and deployed before the situation reached a level where it now rests. Apparently, the organizers believe this is not going to be a momentary distraction…where are we?
Michael Masters: So, as you point out, SCN was created in 2004 at a moment of heightened threat towards the Jewish Community from Islamic Extremists Organizations, particularly Al Qa’ida at the time. Coordinated, created with law enforcement at that moment but we see now, of course that the threat is much broader than the Islamic extremists…white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Black Hebrew Israelites. Ranging from college campuses, such as we saw at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, to attacks in our houses of worship. We have a responsibility that we have to recognize that we will not choose the time and place of the next incident, we can choose our preparations and that’s what we must commit to do.
THE MEDIA LINE: What does that mean?
Michael Masters: That means that organizations and communities working to prepare. It means making sure that we’re conducting assessments on our facilities. Identifying weaknesses in our physical security, strengthening them, providing training to our community members. We know that training saves lives. We have seen it and heard from witness testimony and survivor testimony in Pittsburgh to Poway that training makes a difference. And it also means coordinating with law enforcement. We have phenomenal relationships with state, local and federal law enforcement in the United States. We have to continue to build those relationships and trust and work with law enforcement with our community and other faith-based communities.
THE MEDIA LINE: To have a security organization exclusive to the Jewish community, is in itself disconcerting. Does the Jewish community now fall outside America’s basic sectors?
Michael Masters: No, not at all. The existence of an organization like the Secure Community Network was created specifically to be a liaison with law enforcement. To work to translate the threats that law enforcement was seeing to the community and to be able to act on them. So, the reality is that this is a very strong partnership that works in collaboration with law enforcement. You have to recognize that right now the FBI has over 850 domestic terrorism investigations going on in this country. Since the attack in Pittsburgh, over a dozen individuals arrested by law enforcement who are planning attacks on the Jewish community. Law enforcement is hard at work on behalf of our community. The community needs to recognize that we have a responsibility as well, to protect our own institutions and empower our community, just like we do at fire drills. No one says that the fire department’s fully responsible for preventing the fire reacting to it, they respond and similarly we have other threats in this country that the police are going to respond and react and be proactive but we have to bear some responsibility as well and that’s what this community is doing, and very effectively I might add. The reality is when people become afraid to do those things, that is when we will step away from being a part of the American society. That is when religious freedom is really not only under attack but is being impacted by these individuals who hate. We cannot allow that to happen. We can’t allow fear to control our behavior. We have to create an empowered, resilient community and remain a strong part of American civil society and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
THE MEDIA LINE: Israeli security experts we’ve interviewed makes a point that while Israelis are taught from birth that everyone is their own first line to safety, Americans reflexively rely upon governments to protect them. Is SCN a step towards the Israeli position?
Michael Masters: Felice, that’s probably one of the most articulate ways that I’ve heard of conveying some of the work we are doing on empowerment and engagement in this country. We look towards Israeli model in terms of the resiliency of the community. Just like Israel has an Iron Dome Missile Defense System, we are creating a security shield in this country. And just like every member of Israeli citizens are trained what to do when alarms go off and what actions to take, we’re working to train our community the same way so that their empowered. I think that that’s a very apt example of engagement and empowerment that we are working to create in this country. You look to our Israeli brothers and sisters and cousins and work together to make sure that the Diaspora community is prepared and resilient, just as we work to support Israel to ensure the same.
THE MEDIA LINE: What’s the most urgent message you need in part for the Jewish community regarding security and safety in the year to come. I understand that you already addressed the fact that people have to be diligent and trained but beyond that.
Michael Masters: Commit to action. We teach people in our training, whether it’s situational or awareness training, when you see something, say something, do something. An active shooter, an active threat…commit to action…MOVE. And that’s what we need to do as a community. Every time we heard the phrase, I never thought it could happen here”. We need to overcome that mindset of denial and work to commit to action to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community. To ensure our future. To allow Jewish members of the American community to practice their faith openly responsibly. To allow Jewish culture, traditions and history to live and survive and thrive for our children, grandchildren in generations to come.
THE MEDIA LINE: There was just a major gathering in New York City. Are there other such gatherings planned for out of the country and are there campaigns that you are planning to also roll out?
Michael Masters: Well, one of the great things I think the showing of support that was organized by UJA New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council supported by JFNA and the Conference of Presidents and other organizations, was a great demonstration, not just for the Jewish community but of all communities, coming together to stand up against antisemitism. We see that happening around the country, notwithstanding the rise in antisemitism and hate crimes in this country. We have to recognize the vast majority of people are appalled by that. We have good friends and allies. We’re going to continue to stand up with them and we’re going to continue to work to resource to ensure our safety and security.
THE MEDIA LINE: Michael Masters, thank you for joining me at The Media Line.
Michael Masters: Thank you.
Demonstrators hold placards during a “No Hate; No Fear” solidarity march (Photo: John Lamparski / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)