Just four days after a St. Louis man was arrested for allegedly making bomb threats against the Manhattan headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League and eight Jewish community centers and schools primarily in the New York area, more threats were made Tuesday to 12 JCCs and four ADL offices.
Amid this sixth wave of bomb threats since the beginning of the year, Jewish leaders pressed for more arrests and called for a high-level government envoy to deal with anti-Semitism in the U.S.
And in a sign of the times, a JCC in Suffolk took the unusual step of sending out a fundraising letter Tuesday to its members asking for money to pay for a “comprehensive overhaul” of its aging security systems.
“I’m not a police expert, but with all the resources and technology available to law enforcement, I don’t understand why so few people have been arrested,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind. “That’s a real problem.”
In addition to more than 100 bomb threats to JCCs, Jewish schools, ADL offices and the Museum of Jewish History in Manhattan, authorities are also investigating the desecration and vandalism of several Jewish cemeteries. Although the discovery last weekend of a dozen toppled headstones at a Brooklyn cemetery was labeled by Hikind as vandalism, authorities said it could be the result of neglect.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he believes the “response has been very strong” by law enforcement officials on both the federal and local level.
“The FBI has worked closely with SCN [Security Community Network] and been very responsive, as have other police departments and legislators at the state and local level,” he said.
SCN is the Jewish community’s leading national security agency. Its national director, Paul Goldenberg, was one of the Jewish leaders who met with FBI officials including its director, James Comey, at FBI headquarters in Washington last Friday, to discuss the bomb threats.
“I will assure you that the FBI has tremendous assets in this investigation and I’m positive we’ll see a positive outcome,” he said.
Doron Krakow, the newly installed president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America, said he found it “extraordinary he [Comey] convened that meeting. He does not routinely engage [with communal leaders] but wanted to make sure we knew they were making material progress. … There is no question that progress continues to be made.”
We cannot succumb to these threats — it would be a victory for the terrorists.
The latest bomb threats prompted all 100 U.S. senators on Tuesday to send letters to Comey, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to express their concern that “the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”
Hoenlein told The Jewish Week that although the threats have been unfounded, “they have had a very detrimental impact, dissuading people from attending JCC events, compelling parents to pull their children out [of JCC programs] and disrupting communal life. We cannot succumb to these threats — it would be a victory for the terrorists.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged the new threats, telling reporters: “We’ll continue to condemn them and look at ways in which we can stop them.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered the state police to coordinate with federal and local law enforcement to investigate the latest threats against JCCs in Rochester and Syracuse and the ADL headquarters in Manhattan. He has repeatedly denounced the threats, even making a last minute one-day solidarity trip to Israel last weekend. Such trips by elected officials have usually been made when Israel is at war with its neighbors.
Hoenlein pointed out that “members of Congress are trying to get additional funds to be allocated by this administration” for additional cameras and other security equipment for Jewish institutions.
“That’s important because so many institutions are so strapped for money that security usually gets relegated to the last position [in terms of priorities],” he said.
But that may be changing for some JCCs. The Suffolk Y sent a fundraising email to its members Tuesday saying “investing in security has become a priority” and that it is expected to cost $175,000 for a “comprehensive overhaul” of its aging security systems.
“We must have the most advanced tools to stay ahead of the curve of what is necessary to ensure safety,” said the email, signed by Rob Greenberger, the Y’s chief executive officer. “We live in uncertain times that foster feelings of anxiety and worry which have been elevated since a rash of non-credible threats have been made to JCCs nationwide.”
Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said he is calling for the creation of a Justice Department special coordinator to deal with anti-Semitism in the United States. And he and other Jewish groups have called on the Trump administration to fill the position of special envoy in the State Department for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism abroad. The administration is said to be considering not filling the post for budgetary reasons.
“With anti-Semitism on the rise around the world, now is not the time to eliminate” it, Mariaschin said.
Ken Jacobson, deputy national director of the ADL, said his organization is calling for an interagency task force to deal with hate in the U.S. and does not favor a coordinator to deal with domestic anti-Semitism.
Jacobson added that while he was pleased that one person has been arrested for making eight bomb threats, “there have been dozens of other bomb threats and at least two cemetery desecrations [involving the toppling of heavy tombstones] that required time and tools and more than one person.”
The arrest of Juan Thompson, 31, came after authorities said some of his emailed and phone threats were made in the name of a former love interest as part of a “sustained campaign to harass and intimidate her.” Federal authorities in New York charged him with cyberstalking and other crimes and were said to consider him a “copycat.”
Thompson is also alleged to have made some of the threats in his own name, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court. A former reporter for an online publication, he was fired early last year for allegedly fabricating quotes and sources. He had worked there a little over a year.
The Zionist Organization of America pointed out that Thompson’s Twitter account revealed his conversion to Islam and his hatred of Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel and America. He also claimed that Israel “loved bombing innocents” and is never entitled to defend itself against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“After decades of mainstream Jewish organizations crying wolf by reviling young Jews who want the same rights for Palestinians that Jews correctly have sought for ourselves and many other oppressed groups, the Jewish establishment deserves some responsibility for weakening their own credibility and diminishing the American public’s concern when now our community is facing real anti-Semitism.” – Rabbi Lerner
Among those writing columns about the rash of anti-Semitic incidents is Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, who complained of “indifference” to these events by the media and public because they have been “overdosed with cries of anti-Semitism.”
“After decades of mainstream Jewish organizations crying wolf by reviling young Jews who want the same rights for Palestinians that Jews correctly have sought for ourselves and many other oppressed groups, the Jewish establishment deserves some responsibility for weakening their own credibility and diminishing the American public’s concern when now our community is facing real anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Lerner wrote.
But that view was completely rejected by David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community.
“There is always a danger of overstating anti-Semitism that can cost one his credibility over time,” he told The Jewish Week, “but there is no evidence of that in the current context. We have seen thousands of people come together around desecrated cemeteries, and public officials and law enforcement act with great alacrity towards the bomb threats directed at JCCs.”
He pointed out that there is also “no evidence of rising anti-Semitic attitudes among Americans, and a Pew Research study recently confirmed that Jews are the most admired religious group. “I think what we are seeing is an emboldening of extremes in American society. On the left there are those who delegitimize Israel and on the right you see the emergence of the alt-right and white supremacy groups.
“The overall political atmosphere can make it more or less hospitable for anti-Semitism to exist, but there is no clear causation between the political campaign [and the increase in anti-Semitic incidents].”
He said his organization also supports the ADL’s call for federal and state legislation to protect students from increasing religious harassment and discrimination on college campuses.
Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents said he would “like to see the Department of Education adopt a definition of anti-Semitism in order to hold universities [accountable] to a standard” of behavior on campus.