By YAAKOV KATZ, MATTHEW WAGNER and ALLISON HOFFMAN , THE JERUSALEM POST
Israeli security agencies plan to recommend to Chabad that it relocate its institutions in Asian countries from free-standing homes to office buildings with better security, a top defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
According to the official, the location of the Chabad House in Mumbai and its lax security made it an “easy target” for the terrorists who took it over last week, killing six Israeli and Jewish occupants.
The official said that Israel did not have resources at its disposal to provide security for all Chabad houses around the world, but would make recommendations to the New York-based organization.
“We cannot tell them what to do, since we are not in charge of Chabad,” the official said. “We can only make recommendations of what we think the organization should do to improve its security.”
Israel, the official said, made a distinction between Chabad facilities in the US and Europe, and those in India and Thailand. He said that the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office planned to recommend that the facilities in these and other countries transfer their operations to office buildings.
“It would be safer if the Chabad houses were inside a large… building together with other offices, where there is proper security,” the official said.
Another official said that the reason the terrorists in Mumbai had targeted the Chabad House was that it had relatively lax security in comparison to the Israeli consulate, which is heavily protected.
As the families of the dead arrived in Israel on the first flights out after Shabbat to begin preparing for burials and shiva rituals, Chabad representatives spent the day calling on the government for help in protecting their far-flung emissaries from future terror attacks.
Meanwhile, Shimon Elituv, the Chabad-affiliated rabbi of Mateh Binyamin, initiated a motion in the Chief Rabbinate’s Governing Council asking that Israel provide security for Chabad houses on the grounds that many consider them embassies of the state.
Elituv argued that Chabad’s facilities, dotting more than 70 countries around the globe, provided a “home away from home” for thousands of Israelis travelling abroad.
“Anyone who has traveled abroad knows that during Shabbat and holidays, Chabad houses provide food to thousands of Israelis free of charge,” he said.
The council also called on the government to provide financing for heightened security, echoing a request from United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman in a letter to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
“The Foreign Ministry, its representatives and employees of Israeli embassies around the world enjoy Chabad services,” Litzman wrote in the letter, which appeared in Sunday’s edition of the haredi daily Hamodia and was verified by Litzman’s spokesman.
“Whether it be religious services or aid to new diplomats in acclimating to the locale language-wise and customs-wise, Chabad provides essential help,” Litzman wrote. “Therefore, it is the obligation of the Foreign Ministry to finance security at Chabad houses as a gesture to the many Jews and Israelis who frequent these venues and as a gesture to Chabad.”
Litzman has had strained relations with elements within Chabad, especially after his party joined former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s government on the eve of the 2005 Gaza disengagement. Activists associated with Chabad who were strongly opposed to the disengagement regularly demonstrated outside his home.
Nevertheless, in his letter, Litzman described Chabad’s activities around the world in glowing terms and ended his letter with an emotional plea.
“We cannot allow this incredibly important project to be jeopardized,” he wrote.
In New York, Chabad’s grieving leaders spent Sunday organizing memorials for their dead as a heavy winter downpour mirrored the tears of those coming to pray at its worldwide headquarters in Brooklyn.
Chabad officials there declined to comment to the Post on their security plans, citing concerns that their emissaries abroad were still at risk.
“Obviously security is something that they’re thinking about,” said Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the organization.
Chabad had been preparing to open a new center in the Indian city of Bangalore this week.
On Friday, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Chabad’s educational arm, told reporters he had last spoken to Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the slain director of the Mumbai Chabad House, on Tuesday as they put “the finishing touches” on plans for the branch. Holtzberg had selected the Bangalore emissaries, who were expected to arrive within the next several days.
Officials in New York did not respond to repeated telephone queries on Sunday about whether those plans were still on track.