October 22, 2018

A correction: No American anti-Semitism, just an Israeli’s idiocy

Ten comments on the latest news: an Israeli was detained as a suspect in the phone threats aimed at American Jewish institutions in recent months.


If you haven’t yet heard the news, here it is: a 19 year old Jewish Israeli was arrested as a suspect of carrying out hundreds of bomb threats called into US Jewish Community Centers. Apparently, “sources indicate that most of the cases of threats against Jewish communities and organizations, though not all, led investigators back to Israel.” If this guy, who has dual Israeli-American citizenship, is guilty – the case of the JCC threats is more or less closed.


We know little about the youngster from Ashkelon and his motivation. We do not know if he is guilty. But let us assume for now that the arrest is not baseless. Let us try to understand what such an arrest means.


It means that the wave of anti-Semitism in America was in many ways a creature of the imagination. America is as friendly to its Jews as it was before. Those of us who have been relatively cautious about this new “trend” should feel vindicated. Those of us who have been hysterical about it should reconsider their position.


The teen from Ashkelon did not pay a visit to the St. Louis cemetery. So not all the cases of attacks against Jews were solved today. Then again, if most phone calls were his phone calls, the seismograph of anti-Semitic incidents goes back to normal.


A lot of political points were scored as part of the discussion concerning anti-Semitism in America. Democratic critics of Donald Trump attempted to blame him for an atmosphere that prompted a wave of attacks against Jews. These critics should swallow their pride and apologize to the President. I know – apologizing to a leader who shows no tendency to apologize when he is mistaken will be difficult. But Jewish leaders should not succumb to the culture of Trumpism. They ought to take back their unsubstantiated criticism.


If an Israeli kid with a telephone can create such a scare, maybe it is time to calmly and professionally reconsider the way Jewish institutions respond to phone threats. The phone calls were disruptive, among other things, because of the tendency of institutions to play it safe and take every call with a seriousness that it does not necessarily deserve. Of course, changing this habit carries risks. What if the one time an institutions doesn’t take a call seriously proves to be the one time that it was indeed serious? Still, a reconsideration of the procedures is necessary. Today it is an idiot from Ashkelon, tomorrow it can be an idiot – or a bigot – from someplace else. We should not let kids with landlines disrupt the routine of the Jewish community in such a way.


What are the implications of this on Israel-Diaspora relations? That depends in some way on the motivation of the young attacker. If he is seen here as the representative of violent, hateful Israeliness – trouble is on the way. If he is seen here as just another idiot – which I assume he is – the relations will not suffer. In the meantime, caution is advised. Those people that were hasty in pointing a finger at Trump, should not repeat their mistake by pointing a finger at Israel, Netanyahu, Orthodox-American immigrants, or any other leader or group. It is time to wait for information before making a conclusion.


Anti-Semites will surely have a field day with this news. Truth must be told: they’ll have a good talking point.


One wonders how Trump will respond to this news. As a President, he should ignore it and let the authorities deal with it. As a Trump, it’s hard to believe that he’ll ignore it. Trump is not anti-Semitic, but he will also have a field day. Truth must be told: he will have a good talking point too.


How does one punish such an idiot (assuming he is guilty of these phone calls)? The damage was significant. The motivation – still unknown. On the one hand, there’s a sense he needs to spend a long time in jail, reconsidering his actions and their implications. On the other hand, maybe he just needs to get smacked and sent back home. Spending time in jail for foolishly making phone calls seems severe. So it is not unlikely that within a short time many of us will move from being angry with this teen to pitying him.

(Update: According to his lawyer, the suspect has been suffering from a brain tumor since the age of 14 and ,as a result, has been homeschooled ever since.)