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Congress cuts security funds for synogogues

State Sen. Rory Lancman discusses the dangers of funding cuts to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security outside the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism.
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) took Congress to task this week for cutting funding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that goes toward beefing up security at Queens synagogues and other nonprofits at risk for terrorist attacks.

Lancman spoke outside of the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism, on 73rd Avenue in Electchester.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” Lancman said, rattling off several synagogues in his district that had previously taken advantage of the funding.

The cut came out of a political impasse that was resolved in December, when funding for the department and other federal agencies was set to run out. The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate hashed out an agreement at the 11th hour for the remainder of this fiscal year, which lasts until October.

The resulting agreement cut funding from $19 million to $10 million, which Lancman said had a serious impact on Queens organizations.

Last year, 270 organizations nationwide used the grants to upgrade their security. They used the money to install surveillance cameras, security doors or hiring additional staff, Lancman said.

This year, according to Lancman, only 150 are set to receive the grants.

“This money has been critically important,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village) voted for the appropriations bill in the House, which was passed largely along party lines.

Turner did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The grants can be used by any nonprofit, but Lancman discussed what he called the heightened risk of attack that synagogues operate under on a daily basis.

“I would ask people who are not involved in Jewish cultural life to appreciate the omnipresent threat of violence and harassment,” he said. “The intensity ebbs and flows, but it is omnipresent.”

As an example, he cited a 2009 plot to bomb synagogues in Riverdale, the Bronx, which was foiled by a federal agent who helped the men who were convicted hatch the plan.

And on a yearly basis during the high holidays, the NYPD always increases security around synagogues to deal with any potential threats, Lancman said.

While the security upgrades would not do much for identifying terrorist threats, Lancman said they might deter potential attackers.

The NYPD has recently been in hot water over its policy of infiltrating Muslim student groups and mosques, and the New York Civil Liberties Union has called for a federal investigation.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has defended his actions, calling them necessary in the NYPD’s attempts to foil attacks against the city.

And in a Tuesday Quinnipiac poll, New Yorkers were found to support the NYPD by a 2-to-1 margin and largely back Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg on crime fighting.

Lancman said he supports the NYPD’s policy of gathering information about potential terrorist threats, although he said it must be done within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

He also said the security upgrades could have an ancillary benefit of catching vandals and thieves who have hit synagogues and mosques throughout Queens and Brooklyn in recent months.

In November, swastikas were spray painted on two libraries and on the walls of Congregation Tifereth Israel of Jackson Heights in East Elmhurst.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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