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Jews Face Special Risks, Napolitano Says

Homeland Security Sec'y Defends Controversial Grant Program

Secretary Speaks: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks to staff at the Forward’s offices.

Secretary Speaks: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks to staff at the Forward’s offices.

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 05, 2012, issue of June 15, 2012.

Jews face special risks that require vigilance, though
there is no “specific, credible threat” against Jewish targets, Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Forward during a visit to
the paper’s New York offices.

In a June 4 meeting with the paper’s editorial staff,
Napolitano also defended a security grant program that mostly benefitted
Jewish groups, saying American Jews are rightly concerned about Middle
East tensions spilling over onto U.S. soil.

“Unfortunately there are risks attendant to the Jewish community that are not attendant to all other communities,” she said.

Listen to an interview with Napolitano by Forward editor Jane Eisner and Washington correspondent Nathan Guttman:

A Forward report
last year found that the program for DHS security grants for non-profit
organizations was tailored for the Jewish community and that almost
three-quarters of its funds went to Jewish institutions.

“The fact that it ends up going to many Jewish
organizations doesn’t in itself bother me,” Napolitano said. She added
that she had seen no evidence that the money was misspent and she
believes the grant program has been successful.

Tension levels within the Jewish community, Napolitano
said, hit a peak this past winter, following intensified rhetoric
between Israel and Iran, and the indictment of an Iranian American in
Texas for his role in an alleged plot
by an Iranian official to bomb the Washington embassies of Israel and
Saudi Arabia. These concerns prompted Napolitano to hold a conference
call with 200 Jewish communal leaders in February in which she discussed
the threats and the actions taken to ensure the community’s safety.

During her tenure at DHS, Napolitano added, threats to
the Jewish community came from foreign entities, from homegrown
extremists and from “hate crime type of activity.”

On another topic, Napolitano said that the Department
of Homeland Security has decided to allow Israeli citizens to enter the
United States via a special fast track program despite Israel’s decision
not to grant Americans reciprocal consideration, as the United States
usually requires.

Israel’s inclusion in the Global Entry Program allows
frequent visitors to the United States to complete a questionnaire about
their backgrounds and thereafter enter the country by simply scanning
their passports. Napolitano announced
the decision to include Israeli citizens in the program during a May 20
visit to Israel. A reciprocity requirement that has been applied to all
other countries seeking to join the program was waived in the case of

“We have a special friendship with Israel,” explained
Napolitano. “President Obama is very committed to that relationship and
we are looking for ways to express that commitment within the portfolio
of tasks that the Department of Homeland Security performs.”

At the same time, Napolitano was noncommittal when asked about a push by some members of Congress
and the Israeli government to allow Israeli citizens to enter the
United States without tourist visas at all, as is currently permitted to
citizens of some European countries. The administration, she noted, has
not yet expressed its view on this proposal.

During her recent visit to Israel Napolitano discussed
with Israeli officials the issue of securing borders while preserving
the rights of refugees entering the country. Israel has been dealing
recently with a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment aimed at African
migrants seeking refuge in Israel. Napolitano did not, however, provide
Israel with advice on the issue and would not comment on the Israeli
government’s treatment of the Africans trying to enter the country.

On the issue of screening procedures in airports,
however, the DHS secretary did make clear the U.S. would not follow
Israel’s model. Israel is known for employing screening techniques that
profile air travelers based on their origin, ethnicity or faith.
Security checks conducted at Ben Gurion International Airport routinely
require one-to-one interviews. Napolitano said that the huge difference
in scale makes screening via personal interviews impractical in the
United States, with its scores of international entry points. In
addition, “It’s against the law here to profile,” Napolitano said.

“Israel has perfected a system that works very well
there,” she said. “They do a terrific job. But its not a system we can
just transport 100% to the US, it won’t fit.”

Napolitano also pointedly declined to criticize New
York City’s controversial program of surveillance of Muslim
organizations and individuals with no known or suspected ties to
terrorism. She said New York remains a potential terror target and she
was not going to “second guess” any local police department, or the
program, which civil liberties groups believe amounts to illegal
domestic spying.