Jewish groups get most homeland security grants; few Muslim groups apply

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By Barbara Pash

Jewish groups in Maryland received over $1 million in federal grants to protect them from terrorism this year, while Baltimore-area Muslim organizations, which had gotten grants before, did not apply.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awards grants annually to nonprofit organizations at high risk for terrorist attacks through its Urban Area Security Initiative program. First awarded in 2008, the grants are for security equipment like alarms, cameras, lighting and fences.

“Primarily, an eligible applicant has to be at high risk for terrorist attack or to have a role in responding to and recovering from a terrorist attack,” said Major Jeff Caslin of the Baltimore County Police and chairman of the Baltimore Urban Area Security Initiative subcommittee that oversees the grant program. Most of this year’s applications came from Jewish organizations.

When grant recipients were announced in July, 15 Jewish organizations in the Baltimore metropolitan area received $902,891. Although the Muslim community has applied for and received these grants in the past, no applications were filed this year.

With approximately 95,000 Jewish residents, the Baltimore metro area has one of the largest Jewish populations proportionately in the country, after New York City and Los Angeles.

The Muslim community in the area is much smaller, but it is active and growing, according to Muhammad Jameel, general secretary of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. There are up to 20 mosques around the state, six in Baltimore County, including the Islamic Society, the oldest and one of the largest Muslim organizations in Maryland. The society received a federal nonprofit security grant in 2008, but that was the last year it has applied for one.

Jameel said the application process is complex and cumbersome, and applying for the grant is a challenge. “We are volunteers, and who has time to write the grant?” he said.

Abid Husain, president of the Baltimore County Muslim community, said he was going to try to write a grant, but “I missed the deadline.”

Jameel has recommended that other mosques in Maryland apply for the grants, “but there is a lot of reluctance. We see the need for security but we are afraid, we are cautious,” he said.

As far as Caslin knows, no grant applications have been received from individual mosques.

However, in the nearby National Capital Region, which covers Washington and its Maryland suburbs, in 2010, two Muslim organizations received federal nonprofit security grants:  Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg and Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring. The other 11 grant-winners were Jewish organizations.

It is not unusual for Jewish organizations to receive the lion’s share of the federal nonprofit security grants, both locally and nationally.

“The grants are tied to international terrorism, and there have been threats to the Jewish community that justify the grants,” said Anthony Guglielmi, director of public affairs for the Baltimore City Police.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said, “Jewish institutions are perceived, and very much correctly, as being threatened by national terrorists. There have been incidents in Baltimore.”

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency distributes the federal grants.

Baltimore’s 2010 grant recipients included Jewish congregations, day schools and community organizations. Awards ranged from $4,700 to $75,000.

The Baltimore Jewish Council shepherds Jewish groups through the application process.

“They write them and we vet them to make sure they meet the grant criteria,” Abramson said.

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