FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

James Comey, under fire for presidential election tangles, cites JCC bombing case as an FBI success


Under fire for election-related controversies, FBI Director James Comey cited a successful outcome in the JCC bomb threats case as an example of why the agency’s work remains vital.

“Children frightened, old people frightened, terrifying threats of bombs at Jewish institutions, especially the Jewish community centers — the entire FBI surged in response to that threat,” Comey said in his opening remarks Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Working across all programs, all divisions, our technical wizards, using our vital international presence and using our partnerships especially with the Israeli national police, we made that case and the Israelis locked up the person behind those threats and stopped the terrifying plague against the Jewish community centers,” Comey said.

In March, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in Israel on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department charged the teen, Michael Kadar, with making threatening calls to JCCs in Florida, conveying false information to the police and cyberstalking.

The JCC case was one of several Comey cited in his opening remarks to show what he termed the “magic of the FBI.”

Both the chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., made clear in their opening remarks that the hearing would be tough going for Comey because of election-related tangles involving the FBI.

Grassley wanted Comey to explain leaks exposing investigations into alleged ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Feinstein asked why Comey felt it was necessary for the FBI director to reveal on Oct. 28, less than two weeks before the president election, that he was set to reopen an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who would lose to Trump, had criminal intent when as secretary of state she conducted government business through private email. Comey had closed the case earlier in the campaign, saying there was no evidence of criminal intent.

Comey explained that there was evidence new emails from Clinton could be found on a laptop seized from Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who resigned in a sexting scandal and who now is under investigation allegedly for sexting with a minor. Weiner, who is Jewish, was then married to Huma Abedin, an assistant to Clinton.

Included were emails from a private Clinton email account that the FBI had yet to access, Comey told Feinstein.

“If there was evidence that she had bad intent, that’s where it would be,” he said.

It has long been a mystery why Clinton’s emails ended up on Weiner’s laptop. Comey, for the first time, provided an explanation: Abedin was sharing email, including classified information, with her husband.

“Somehow her emails are being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information by her assistant Huma Abedin,” he said.

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

ADL reports spike in anti-Semitism since 2016


Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in the United States since the beginning of last year, nearly doubling in the first quarter of 2017, according to a national report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The U.S. saw a 34 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, with an additional 86 percent increase in the first three months of this year, according to the ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released on April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew-hatred.

In addition to the national report, the ADL released a companion report for incidents in its Pacific Southwest region, which includes Los Angeles. In California, the audit noted 211 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015.

The reports come on the heels of a pair of polls conducted by the ADL, published earlier this month, that found 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

CR_XXXX_2016-17 Audit-graphics_Q1_v3Amanda Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director for the ADL, noted a number of alarming trends in the audit, some of which she said likely are tied to the national political environment and the November election of President Donald Trump.

“We believe the 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere may have played a role in some of the increase,” she told the Journal.

Though the reports provide only a rough assessment of anti-Semitic acts, Susskind pointed to some causes for concern, namely, the proliferation of swastikas as a hate symbol and, among youth, “a feeling of freedom to express themselves verbally in hateful ways.”

The regional audit notes a Riverside County elementary school vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “Burn Jews,” and an Indio high school student who wore a Nazi uniform to high school for Halloween.

Susskind said the president’s failure to appropriately check his supporters who express virulently anti-Semitic views helped create a permissive atmosphere for hateful speech.

“I have no doubt that it trickled down into the mainstream and ultimately into the school yards and playgrounds, where kids are starting to become more loose-lipped,” Susskind said.

Nationally, the ADL reported “a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”

“Seeing [anti-Semitism] in K-12 is pretty disturbing,” Susskind said. “Not that it’s not disturbing in college, but it’s newly disturbing to us this year.”

As for the swastikas, she said, “I hope it’s an anomaly.”

She noted an “extraordinarily large” number of incidents where swastikas were etched into cars, presumably owned by Jews. The regional report makes note of swastikas scratched into cars in heavily Jewish neighborhoods, including Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills.

The national audit makes particular note of an uptick in anti-Semitic activity since the presidential election. Of the 1,266 acts included in the report “targeting Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2016, almost 30 percent of them occurred in November and December.

During the first three months of 2017, there were 541 incidents, far more than the 291 reported during the same time period the previous year. The 2017 count includes a national wave of phony bomb threats against Jewish institutions.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016, and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

Susskind was careful to indicate that the incidents in the audit represent only those reported to the ADL or that ADL staffers read about and followed up on, and also that the information was anecdotal rather than scientific.

Moreover, she said there are other arenas where anti-Semitism is entrenched that are not included in the reports.

Susskind said the ADL continues to monitor cyberhate, for instance, which has not abated since the election. She said haters are emboldened when the White House fails to condemn acts of anti-Semitism quickly and strongly.

“There’s a failure of leadership consistently, and in that vacuum, hate rushes in,” she said.

The American-Israeli teenager arrested on suspicion of making over 100 bomb threats to American JCCs leaving court in Rishon Lezion, Israel, on March 23. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Father of teen accused of JCC bomb threats apologizes to US Jews


The father of the Israeli-American teenager arrested on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats to JCCs and Jewish institutions has apologized for his son’s actions.

The father appeared in his first interview in Israel, nearly two weeks after he was arrested along with his son following a months-long undercover investigation by Israel’s anti-fraud unit, as well as the FBI in the United States and law enforcement in other countries.

“To all the Jews in the United States, I want to convey an unequivocal message: We are very sorry from the bottom of our hearts. We are good Jews, we do not hate you. There was no hatred here. His motive is solely the disease,” the teen’s father said on Channel 2 from his home in Ashkelon, in southern Israel, where he remains under house arrest on suspicion that he knew about his son’s activities.

The identity of the suspect, 19, is under a gag order in Israel, though he has been identified in reports in other countries. The father, who was not seen in the interview, is identified only as Eli, a pseudonym.

The father denies knowing about what his son was doing, but does not deny that his son carried out the threats.

“The world has to understand, this boy is different, he’s unique,” said the father.

The father said he son has undergone three surgeries to remove tumors after being exposed to harmful chemicals at his job, and that his son also has a benign tumor in his head.

At a court hearing last week, the teen’s attorney presented photographs and medical imaging of a non-malignant brain tumor that the defense says affects his behavior.

On Thursday, the teen will appear in court, where investigators are expected to ask that he remain in police custody. The father said he hopes his son will be permitted to go to house arrest, though it seems unlikely since law enforcement is portraying the teen as dangerous.

He also is accused of a series of threats made in Israel, Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the past six months and of making a threatening call to Delta Airlines, leading to the emergency landing of at least one plane.

The teen’s mother in a Saturday-night interview on Channel 2 said through tears that the threats were not her son’s fault because he cannot control his behavior due to the tumor and his autism.

The teen was born in the United States; the family moved to Israel when he was 6. He was homeschooled from first grade and, according to his mother, rarely left home and has no friends.

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on March 24. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Is Trump owed an apology after the JCC bomb threat arrest? Is anybody?


Literally within seconds of the news of the arrest in Israel of an Israeli-American teenager for the bulk of the JCC bomb threats, Twitter lit up with Jewish anxiety.

“[I] fear the inevitable backlash from haters who we whipped [into] a frenzy for our own nefarious political aims” is how someone responded to the JTA story about the arrest.

A colleague’s friend wrote, “And now people will have another excuse to not take anti-Semitism seriously.”

The shock and anxiety inspired by news of the arrest were understandable. After all, anti-Semitic organizations and websites keep tallies of “false flag” anti-Semitic attacks carried out by Jews in order to discredit the very idea that anti-Semitism exists. (Such incidents are few and far between, and pale next to the actual tally of attacks on people and property, but never mind.)

But the JCC bomb threat hoax wasn’t just an isolated swastika daubing — it was an ongoing story affecting Jewish institutions in nearly every American Jewish community. It shaped a communal narrative that something ugly and insidious was happening out there. And it fueled a political crisis among most American Jewish organizations and the White House, with the former accusing the latter of taking too long to denounce anti-Semitism and to comfort Jews traumatized by the bomb threats and at least two major cemetery desecrations.

Coming almost as quickly as the expressions of anxiety was the political exploitation of the arrest.

“The Ultimate Self-Hating Jew, a 19-yr old Israeli-American, was behind the JCC bomb threats,” tweeted Marc Zell, the co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel. “The US Jewish leadership owes @POTUS an apology.”

David Bernstein at the Washington Post’s conservative Volokh Conspiracy posted in a blog: “[T]he fight against actual anti-Semitism and other forms of racism will likely have been dealt a blow because self-serving groups like the ADL chose to hype and politicize the threats without any idea of their actual origin.”

Before we get too far into the rituals of finger-pointing, a few things are worth considering: First, JCCs and other Jewish institutions across the country, and the children and adults who use them, were traumatized by the string of some 150 bomb threats. It cost JCCs members and money, and diverted funds from programs to heighten security. That the main hoaxer allegedly was a Jewish guy living in Israel doesn’t erase three months of anguish.

Second, it is a huge relief to Jewish institutions — and the community that relies upon them — that someone has been caught. Perhaps they can return to business as usual. Let’s give them their moment of relief.

Third, Jews didn’t do this to “themselves.” This was a criminal act by an individual. Blaming all members of a community for the act of an individual is a page out of the anti-Semitism playbook.

Many Jewish groups did go too far, too fast in assuming the identity of the culprit (or culprits), pinning the threats on a political climate inspired by President Donald Trump.

“We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen,” Oren Siegel, the director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said at a news conference following the arrest of the first suspect, Juan Thompson (a copycat motivated by some weird romantic grudge that appears to have had little to do with Jews). “White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

Bend the Arc, the liberal Jewish social justice group, was more explicit in blaming Trump.

“In recent days, we have seen manifestations of the hatred stirred up by President-elect Donald Trump throughout his campaign,” it wrote in a statement after the first wave of JCC bomb threats. “Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats against Jewish institutions and individuals.”

At this moment, we don’t know the motive of the Israeli suspect. But assuming this kid was dealing with personal demons and the JCC bomb threats can’t be pinned on typical anti-Semitic ideology, does this mean that the spike in hate crimes tallied in New York and elsewhere didn’t happen? Were these Jewish groups wrong to assume that anti-Semites were responsible for anti-Semitism?

Groups who pinned the bomb threats on an atmosphere that Trump “helped to create” certainly went too far, but does their lack of caution mean that Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric should be forgiven? Should advocacy groups not have called out a campaign and an administration that has tolerated and encouraged the “alt-right” and habitually indulges in ethnically divisive rhetoric?

Ann Coulter — asking “Has ANY anti-Trump story been true?” — joined the chorus of those suggesting the arrest exonerated Trump, though exonerated of what is not clear. Jewish groups wanted a strong statement from the White House condemning the bomb threats and the cemetery vandalism not because he was the perpetrator or a Republican, but because he is the president of the United States. Issuing statements of condemnation and support is what presidents do, automatically and usually inconspicuously. Only Trump has seemed to take this task as an affront, somehow believing that to condemn hate crimes is to take responsibility for them.

Others are saying that the arrest of a Jew in the bomb threats vindicates Trump’s comments last month suggesting that the threats were a “false flag” attack. According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Trump told a meeting of states’ attorney generals that “Sometimes it’s the reverse,” and attacks are made “to make people – or to make others – look bad.”

Some took this to mean that Trump was suggesting a Jew was behind the attack, although more likely he was referring to a political enemy. Whatever he meant, he couldn’t have sounded more tone-deaf. Again, dozens of institutions and hundreds of families were reeling from a series of bomb threats. As in his famous blowup in response to a question from a Jewish reporter about rising anti-Semitism, Trump made the events about him rather than the victims.

The ADL and other Jewish groups have a tough PR challenge ahead of them: keeping the focus on acts of anti-Semitism by traditional enemies — white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the virulently anti-Israel far left — while acknowledging that one of the most extensive and public anti-Semitic acts of recent memory was carried out by a Jew. They’ll need to recast the narrative of resurgent anti-Semitism by omitting the wave of JCC bomb threats, but not at the expense of the victimized JCCs.

As the American Jewish Committee put it in a statement, “This is a lesson in not leaping to assumption[s] about complex links between polarizing politics and anti-Semitic acts. But it does not dispel [the] age-old reality of anti-Semitism.”

And they’ll have to find a way to stay vigilant in a polarized and poisonous political era without being seen as the boys who cried wolf.

American Jewish Committee returns to Warsaw


The American Jewish Committee returned to Warsaw after eight years.

AJC on Monday opened a new office in the city dedicated to serving Poland and six other Central European countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.

“Welcome home!” Andrzej Folwarczny, founder of the Forum for Dialogue and recipient of AJC’s Jan Karski Award, said at an evening ceremony at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Folwarczny, who is not Jewish, has been cooperating with AJC for more than 20 years, organizing study visits of opinion leaders from Poland and the United States. The groups travel to the U.S. to address issues of concern in Polish-American and Polish-Jewish relations. Folwarczny’s best-known project is School of Dialogue, which helps young people living in small Polish towns to learn about their local Jewish community’s history.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, in a statement marking the event, said he sees the depth of symbolism in the fact that the ceremony coincided with the launch of NATO forces’ presence in Poland.

“In the period when Poland, having regained her sovereignty after the collapse of the communist regime, strived to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the American Jewish Committee proved to be our valuable ally,” he wrote in a letter read to gala participants.

Jonathan Ornstein, director of JCC Krakow, told JTA that the opening of AJC’s office in Poland will give a boost to its growing Jewish community and help Poland strengthen ties with the Jewish world. He said the choice of Warsaw is yet another sign that world Jewry recognizes Poland as a growth area and a bright spot in Europe.

“We at JCC Krakow are excited to cooperate with AJC and eager to access their experience in community building as our Krakow Jewish community continues to develop and reemerge after the fall of communism,” he said.

In 1997 David Harris, who has led AJC since 1990, testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of NATO admission for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. AJC was the only Jewish organization to do so.

In a partnership with the Polish government, AJC helped protect and memorialize the site of Belzec, a German death camp located in southeastern Poland, where approximately 500,000 Jews were murdered in less than a year.

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

Bipartisan bill would boost penalties for anti-Semitic bomb threats


A bipartisan bill would increase the federal penalty for bomb threats and other threats of violence against religious institutions and ensure such acts can be prosecuted as a hate crime.

The bipartisan Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, introduced Monday by Reps. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., comes after over 150 bomb threat hoaxes were called into Jewish community centers starting in January. Although a Jewish teenager with dual Israeli-American citizenship was charged last week in the bulk of those threats, both sponsors focused on their impact on the dozens of JCCs and their clientele.

“The rise in threats at religious community centers is deeply disturbing and makes it clear that existing federal laws do not suitably deter these acts of hate,” Kustoff, who is Jewish, added in a statement. “Religious tolerance is the bedrock on which our great nation was founded. We must defend the individual liberties of our neighbors of all faiths and protect places of worship, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that addresses the issue head on.”

Added Kilmer: “No American should be made a target because of his or her faith. Sadly, religious community centers across the country have increasingly had to lock down their facilities and call in bomb squads.”

The statement noted that JCCs were forced to evacuate as result of the threats, and families using Hebrew schools and early childhood education programs “have been forced to choose between their safety and their faith community.”

This bipartisan legislation would amend the Church Arson Prevention Act enacted in 1996 to ensure that individuals who make bomb threats and other “credible threats” of violence based on the religious nature of the target can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime.

The current law limits the consequences for “credible threats” to misdemeanor charges. The new law would create a penalty of up to five years in prison if such threats lead to damage or destruction of property.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Reps. Ted Poe, R-Tenn.; Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Joseph  Kennedy III, D-Mass.

Workers placing headstones back on their bases at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in the St. Louis area, on Feb. 21. Photo by James Griesedieck

It’s not the bomb threats, stupid!


Phone calls are an exceedingly cheap form of harassment, which makes them highly likely to be hoaxes. Because likelihood is not certainty, such calls are still taken seriously, and they still incite fear and disrupt lives. But the times I’ve written about the rise in anti-Semitism since the election, I didn’t even include the hoax bomb threats in a list of hate crimes. That’s because anyone can call in a bomb threat, from anywhere in the world.

That’s all the more clear now that we’ve learned that many calls came from one Jewish teen in Israel. But even if not one of the bomb threats came from a white supremacist, we are still in the floodplain of a rising wave of far-right hate.

An anonymous phone call to a JCC rarely represents an intent to cause actual physical harm. But there are acts really threaten endangerment, acts done in-person or to a person. Acts committed from a distance are only more serious if they target specific people: a family in Montana who is attacked by “troll storm”, journalists whose find their image superimposed onto a view of Auschwitz or an oven. In-person acts include swastikas spray-painted on synagogue doors, or much worse, a bullet in a classroom window. Someone can’t do them unless they are ready to show up on Jewish property and risk being identified or caught.

The ladder of escalation increases by orders of magnitude: actions that involve property destruction are another order of magnitude. Actions that destroy the property that stands for and houses the people being attacked rise to yet another order of magnitude: the arson of a mosque, cemetery gravestones broken and knocked over.

These targets, the mosque where people prayed, the grave where someone was laid to rest and where people come to remember them, stand in for real people. Their sacredness and significance comes from that role. Though no one is endangered by a fallen gravestone, a cemetery is called a “beit olam”, an eternal home, or a place that houses eternity. It’s all of our past and, since we all will end up there in some fashion, our future.

There is zero possibility that such acts are commited by a prankster, even an anti-Semitic one. There next step beyond this is violence against living human beings, and we have to assume that is what the perpetrators mean. As I wrote before Purim in the Jewish Journal, that’s “what kind of person you have to be to knock down Jewish tombstones”.

African Americans have faced such direct violence with little break for more than two hundred years in too many areas and circumstances throughout this country. One more innocent black man was slain in New York this week by a white supremacist. Muslims and people who look Muslim now face this level of violence here, though they face far worse violence on a mass scale in a number of Muslim nations. Jews have faced violence for two millenia, but we’ve had a respite, here in America. Though our respite has been disturbed by swastikas and vandalism, we are still one step away from that reality.

I can imagine rightists complaining that this argument ignores the fact that people are afraid of terrifying violence from Islamic extremists. But we are all targets of that violence – Jews, Muslims and Christians, gay or straight, all races, all religions. It doesn’t divide us but unites us. In contrast, one purpose of hate crimes that target a minority group is to divide that group from the rest of America.

The people who knocked down tombstones were not pranksters or cranks or armchair haters. I guarantee that they were not planting “false flags”. But back in February, Trump thought they might be and said so.

Soon after, a person was arrested for calling in some of the bomb threats. He turned out to be African American, probably anti-Semitic but certainly not alt-right, who was mostly focused on trying to harm his ex. Jews on the right felt reassured: false flag theory “confirmed”. Now that the next person to be apprehended, for a much large number of calls, has turned out to be Jewish and Israeli, they are feeling even more justified.

So far, these crimes, from phone calls to arson, have brought Jews, Muslims, and faithful Christians together. Paradoxically, however, they are dividing Jews from each other based on right and left politics.

The Trumpist right – and most alarmingly, the Jewish right – is predictably generalizing to say that the tide of anti-Semitic crime is a hoax without connection to Trump’s rhetoric or followers. But the perpetrators of anonymous bomb threats are an entirely different segment of humanity from the perpetrators of tombstone desecration. Unmasking or stopping the one in no way mitigates the meaning or threat of the other.

Nevertheless, Mort Klein would like the Jews who are worried about Trump-inspired anti-Semitism to deliver an apology to Trump (not for the first time – he’s called for AIPAC, the ADL, and The Forward to apologize to Trump and allies in the past year).

How is it that Mort Klein, Dennis Prager, and their ilk , don’t get the difference between a phone call and a direct act of violence? An insightful analysis of the Jewish left versus the Jewish right by Shmuel Rosner appeared on 3/21 in the Jewish Journal. Rosner, quoting Yehudah Mirsky, suggested that while the left is still trying to create a society of justice where Jews are protected because everyone is protected, the right has regressed to the age of the court Jew, the age when a high-placed Jewish leader would (try to) protect his or her people from the mob’s wrath by asking for intervention from the powers that be. In that model, backing the most powerful is how Jews can be assured of protection.

We have the best-placed court Jews we could imagine, I suppose. The son-in-law and daughter of the President. But that’s all they are. Even so, the right is ready to accept this regression of several centuries, as long as the state of Israel can do whatever and be safe. But that attitude will also lead to our enemies here doing whatever.

The Jewish right, by downplaying manifestly anti-Semitic violence and denouncing other Jews, will help the nativist right and alt-right spread the lie of a Jewish left conspiracy to malign Trump. It’s a claim that could come straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

We will not be safe if we are waiting for Donald Trump to show up for his job and do something. Nor can we count on Mort Klein, David Friedman, Ivanka or Jared – our court Jews – nor on Netanyahu – “melekh Yisrael”, the king of Israel, as he is sometimes praised, to step up to champion the Jewish people outside of Israel.

But we can, and together with our allies, we will.

The JCC bomb threat suspect, identified as Michael Kaydar by The Daily Beast, leaving court in Rishon Lezion, Israel, March 23. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

JCC bomb threat suspect reportedly used Bitcoin, Google Voice


The Israeli-American teenager suspected of perpetrating more than 100 bomb threats against Jewish institutions used technologies including Google Voice, a call forwarding service, and Bitcoin, a digital currency, to make the threats.

According to an article in The Daily Beast, the 19-year-old suspect’s name is Michael Kaydar. Israel’s anti-fraud squad arrested Kaydar at his home in southern Israel and searched the premises on Thursday.

He also is accused of a series of threats made in Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the past six months, according to reports in Israel, and is reported to have called in threats to the Israel Police two months ago regarding Israeli educational institutions.

To hide his identity, Kaydar used a technology called SpoofCard that masks a number’s caller ID, according to the Daily Beast. When police subpoenaed SpoofCard’s parent company to trace the call’s real number, they learned that he had called from a disposable Google Voice number.

He paid for SpoofCard through Bitcoin, also untraceable, and routed his internet through proxies, making his IP address untraceable as well. In addition, he masked his voice in the calls to sound like a woman.

Kaydar was caught after he forgot to trace his internet connection through a proxy server, allowing police to trace his IP address, which led to his home.

William Daroff (L), the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, addresses the House subcommittee. Photo by Ron Sachs, via JTA.

Jewish officials fret Trump budget will gut security grants


Citing the recent increase in threats to Jewish institutions, Jewish community officials urged Congress to preserve a security assistance program for nonprofits that could be threatened under President Donald Trump’s budget.

“Congress should consider ways to strengthen the program rather than dismantle it,” William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, said Thursday in testimony to a House subcommittee.

Congress currently funds the program at $20 million per year. The vast majority of funds have gone to Jewish institutions since the program was launched in 2005, providing the nonprofits with money for security upgrades, including barricades and security cameras.

Trump’s budget proposes rolling the funds for nonprofit protection into broader federal emergency preparedness funds disbursed to the states and overall cuts of $667 million in preparedness grants.

Groups like Jewish Federations, which lobbied for the program, oppose such a rollover, saying smaller nonprofits would get lost in the competition for the funds. Former President Barack Obama also proposed a rollover.

“Keeping the programs separated and segregated serves the interests of the country,” Daroff said.

Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration argue that applicants for the preparedness grants must do more to show need.

In an interview Friday, Daroff said he anticipated vigorous resistance to the proposed cuts from the Jewish community as well as first responders, states and municipalities.

Although the majority of funds go to Jewish institutions, Muslim institutions in recent months have also expressed an interest in the program – with encouragement from organized Jewish groups.

“These cuts would be devastating,” Daroff said. “We oppose these cuts as well as any consolidation of the nonprofit security grant program. This proposal would be received negatively in the first responder community and by state and local governments.”

Daroff in his testimony noted the sharp increase in threats in recent months, most notably a wave of bomb threats called into and emailed to Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions.

“The threats have escalated to unprecedented levels in recent months,” Daroff said. “Since Jan. 1, at least 116 Jewish communal institutions, including community centers, schools, places of worship and others have received more than 160 bomb threats in 39 states. A growing number of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated and dozens upon dozens of incidents of anti-Semitic assaults, vandalism, and graffiti have been reported.”

Also testifying was Michael Feinstein, the CEO of the Bender Jewish Community Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He said that Jewish community fundraising alone could not provide the JCCs with needed security funds.

“These funds have been critical for us,” Feinstein said. “We cannot raise enough money on our own, and these funds make a tremendous difference for our JCC and other JCCs.”

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who chairs the subcommittee — known as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management — has said he understands the need for the broader cuts, but he and other panelists of both parties appeared sympathetic to the appeal to preserve the nonprofit security grant program.

Barletta noted the wave of threats against JCCs nationwide.

“This is domestic terrorism,” he said, “and the full force of the law needs to be brought against the perpetrators.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer briefs reporters outside the West Wing of the White House. March 6. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS.

White House condemns new bomb threats against Jewish sites


White House press secretary Sean Spicer condemned a new wave of bomb threats against Jewish sites, including Jewish community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices.

“I want to acknowledge that there’s been an additional wave of threats to Jewish community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices,” Spicer told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“I share the president’s thoughts that he vehemently hopes that we don’t continue to have to share these reports with you. But as long as they do continue, we’ll continue to condemn them and look at ways in which we can stop them,” he said.

As of midday Tuesday, at least a dozen Jewish institutions across North America had received threats of lethal attack, the sixth such wave since the beginning of the year. Among those targeted were at least 10 community centers, a pair of Jewish day schools and four regional offices of the Anti-Defamation League. More than 100 Jewish institutions, most of them community centers, have been targeted since the beginning of the year.

Trump, who has come under fire for delayed responses to the threats, noted them during his address to a joint session of Congress last week.

“Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains,” Trump said at the opening of his speech. “Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

JCC bomb threats are weapons of fear


The “fear itself” thing? FDR was on to something.

The rash of JCC bomb threats and cemetery desecrations, combined with a general sense that the country is becoming more intolerant, has Jews on edge in ways they haven’t been in years. The head of a major American Jewish organization wrote to me that the recent outbreak of anti-Semitic activity “is the worst America has seen since the 1930s.” (It’s not.)

Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress has declared that “in recent weeks and months we have witnessed an unprecedented and inconceivable escalation of anti-Semitic acts in the United States” — again, an exaggeration.

The stats, tracked rigorously but narrowly by the Anti-Defamation League and haphazardly by the FBI, aren’t in for 2016 or early 2017, the period covering the presidential campaign and that presumably would include the kinds of “spikes” many would like to attribute to Donald Trump’s racially and ethnically charged campaign and emboldening of the “alt-right.”

One of the more worrisome accountings came from the NYPD, which found that anti-Semitic incidents were up 94 percent in the city over this time last year, with 35 anti-Semitic incidents reported in January and February.

But such numbers don’t yet point to an “unprecedented and inconceivable escalation” in anti-Semitism. And they don’t take into account the counter-evidence, like a Pew study that found that Jews are the most “warmly” regarded religious group in the U.S. (“Great news!” said parents and staff huddled outside an evacuated JCC). Or the acts of kindness and concern that followed many of the attacks, from Muslims raising money to restore a vandalized cemetery to the unanimous Senate letter urging the White House to boost security measures at Jewish institutions and assure the investigation and punishment of hate crimes.

Nor can it be overlooked that American Jews are as comfortable and accepted as they have ever been in history. No school, no neighborhood and no profession is off limits. Jews are over-represented in politics, academia and media. Even the high rate of intermarriage is a sign of social acceptance of Jews. Unlike many parts of Europe, where armed guards protect synagogues and observant Jewish men often hide their kippot under caps, American Jews can be out, proud and as loud as they want to be.

But the numbers and sociology can’t account for the way Jews feel, and right now many are not feeling good. The high levels of Jewish anxiety owe t0 a combination of the commander in chief, the political mood, the nature of the JCC attacks and the media.

Let’s start with President Trump: Most Jews didn’t vote for him, and regarded his campaign antics as particularly unsettling, from his appeal among white supremacists and ethno-nationalists to his willingness to exploit the country’s racial and ethnic divides.

In his embrace of a fiercely chauvinistic “economic nationalism,” White House strategist Steve Bannon represents something “unprecedented and inconceivable” in the minds of many Jews. Until Trump, resurgent nationalism seemed very much a problem for Europe, where economic malaise, fear of immigrants and the ghosts of the 20th century have combined into a particularly toxic brew on the right.

Recent Republican and Democratic administrations alike gave at least lip service to the idea of America as a vivid tapestry in which people of all races, religions and nationalities are welcome. Bannon, you’ll recall, is not just a foe of illegal immigration, but of legal immigration, which has “kinda overwhelmed the country,” as he said in a 2016 radio interview with (wait for it) Trump advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller.

Even for those who believe Trump is the savior Israel has been waiting for, and who accept his disavowals of the alt-right, it upset Jewish assumptions about their position as a privileged minority when Trump couldn’t bring himself to forthrightly denounce the JCC threats and other anti-Semitic acts.

The nature of the JCC attacks are diabolically brilliant in their ability to unsettle Jews. I imagine a lone wolf or a team of hackers, armed with some cheap electronics and a motive to maximize mischief, working off an easy to find list of institutions with “Jewish” and “community” in their very names. There are far fewer JCCs than synagogues, but targeting JCCs assures you of hitting at least one easily identifiable Jewish institution in every consequential Jewish community across the country. I’m betting it’s only an unhappy accident that the hoaxer picked one of the few Jewish places that cuts across all movements and ideologies, and even attracts non-Jews to their fitness centers and childcare programs. That potentially puts every Jew on edge.

Coverage of these attacks, while unavoidable, also instills fear. As the editor of a Jewish news service, I feel implicated: What if in the name of informing the community, we are merely spreading anxiety? Readers rely on us to cover acts of anti-Semitism large and small. These include nasty anti-Zionist demonstrations on college campuses, grotesque internet “memes” originating with the alt-right and increasingly bizarre examples of swastika graffiti, including some carved in snow and one shaped out of human feces. 

But do these various acts, in a country of over 300 million, represent a growing trend or the salacious exception?

And what if we and the anti-Semitism watchdogs are wrong? What if the JCC attacks aren’t the vanguard of the New Anti-Semitism, but a weird and personal vendetta on the part of the hoaxer? Sure enough, Juan Thompson, a suspected copycat charged last week in at least eight of the JCC attacks, turns out to be an unhinged young man whose apparent motivation wasn’t even anti-Semitism but revenge on an old flame.

That doesn’t make the targeted Jew or Jewish institution feel any better. Fear has its own dynamic. JCCs aren’t talking about the members or preschool students they’ve lost as a result of the hoaxes, but word is getting out that the numbers might be significant. You can’t blame the families who just don’t need the tsurris, but you can look at your own behavior and ask in what ways you are making a bad situation worse.

So yes, we need strong enforcement of our hate crimes laws. And institutions that have the security they need. And careful monitoring of anti-Semitism in all its forms. And government leaders who have the backs of targeted minorities and pledge to defend the diversity of multicultural America.

But we also need a reminder that Jews have it pretty good here, and that we shouldn’t give too much power to a kid with a Sharpie, or a hacker with a speed-dial, or a disturbed, disgraced stalker. We have to stand up and say these institutions are ours, and we’re here to stay.

President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One. March 5. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS.

Senate unanimously signs letter to Trump administration urging action on threats to Jewish institutions


The U.S. Senate unanimously joined in urging the Trump administration to take action to stem the wave of threats against Jewish community centers and other institutions, saying their viability had been made vulnerable by the harassment.

“We are concerned 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,” said the letter sent Tuesday.

The letter, which was coincident with a sixth wave of nationwide threats against Jewish institutions on Tuesday, was signed by all 100 senators and addressed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey.

“We encourage you to communicate with individual JCCs, the JCC Association of North America, Jewish Day Schools, Synagogues and other Jewish community institutions regarding victim assistance, grant opportunities or other federal assistance that may be available to enhance security measures and improve preparedness,” the statement said. “We also recognize the anti-Semitic sentiment behind this spate of threats and encourage your Departments to continue to inform state and local law enforcement organizations of their obligations under the Hate Crime Statistics Act and other federal laws.”

The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Marco Rubio, D-Fla., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The threats, which have reached well over 100 institutions since the beginning of the year, are under investigation by the FBI and other federal authorities. Federal officials have briefed Jewish community leaders.

Lawmakers in recent weeks have suggested additional measures. Last week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives caucus to combat anti-Semitism proposed that Trump name someone to coordinate the investigation across government agencies. A separate Senate letter is circulating that proposes more than doubling the $20 million now available to non-profits for security upgrades, from $20 million to $50 million.

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York Regional Director, speaking during a news conference at the ADL national headquarters in New York City on March 3. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

ADL: Juan Thompson’s arrest alone won’t stop ‘unprecedented’ wave of anti-Semitism


Thanking the FBI and police for the arrest of Juan Thompson, who allegedly made eight bomb threats to Jewish institutions, the Anti-Defamation League called the current wave of anti-Semitic acts “unprecedented.”

“Law enforcement at all levels is a close friend to the Jewish people in America,” Evan Bernstein, ADL’s New York regional director, said at a news conference Friday. “Just because there’s been an arrest today around our bomb threats does not mean that the threats have disappeared or will stop.”

The news conference was convened after law enforcement announced earlier in the day that Thompson had been charged in connection with the deluge of bomb threats received this year by Jewish institutions. Thompson, 31, of St. Louis, allegedly made bomb threats to JCCs, Jewish schools and an ADL office as part of his cyberstalking of a former romantic partner.

The ADL and several other Jewish groups had met Friday with FBI Director James Comey. According to a statement from the groups in attendance, which were not listed, the meeting concerned recent anti-Semitic acts and collaboration between Jewish institutions and law enforcement.

“All the organizations in attendance expressed the deep gratitude of the entire community for the extraordinary effort that the FBI is applying to the ongoing investigation,” the statement said. “The representatives of the Jewish community left with the highest confidence that the FBI is taking every possible measure to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

According to statistics compiled by the New York Police Department, anti-Semitic acts have nearly doubled in early 2017 as compared to one year earlier. The ADL said that due to the reach of the internet and the quantity of recent bomb threats, white supremacists are more emboldened than ever. 

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen. White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

In total, more than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in PhiladelphiaSt. Louis and Rochester, New York, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into JCCs, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year. No explosive device was found after any of the calls.

The ADL called on President Donald Trump to take action against anti-Semitism, including by directing the Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation into the threats, and by creating a federal interagency task force on combating hate crimes chaired by the attorney general.

“We need action to stop these threats,” Bernstein said. “History shows that when anti-Semitism gains the upper hand, courageous leaders need to speak out and take action before it’s too late.”

Segal said the ADL has been tracking Thompson, a disgraced former journalist, since he fabricated the identity of a cousin of Dylann Roof, the gunman who killed nine at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Thompson was fired from his reporter post at The Intercept last year for fabricating sources and quotes. According to the ADL, he has posted inflammatory tweets about white police officers and the “white New York liberal media.”

St. Louis man arrested for bomb threats against Jewish institutions


A St. Louis man has been charged for making at least eight bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the Anti-Defamation League.

Juan Thompson, 31, made some of the threats in the name of a former romantic partner he had been cyberstalking, according to a statement Friday by the U.S. Attorney of Southern New York. Thompson has been charged with cyberstalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“Today, we have charged Juan Thompson with allegedly stalking a former romantic interest by, among other things, making bomb threats in her name to Jewish Community Centers and to the Anti-Defamation League,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “Threats of violence targeting people and places based on religion or race – whatever the motivation – are unacceptable, un-American, and criminal. We are committed to pursuing and prosecuting those who foment fear and hate through such criminal threats.”

Thompson made some of the threats in his victim’s name and some in his own in an attempt to portray himself as being framed. In a series of  Twitter posts this week, he claimed his victim was in fact making the threats and framing him. He also tweeted sympathetic messages expressing support for the Jewish victims of the threats.

But the FBI complaint against Thompson says he was behind at least eight of the threats made in January and February, mostly via email. The complaint says Thompson threatened institutions including the ADL, JCCs in San Diego and New York City, schools in New York and Michigan, and a Jewish history museum in New York City. In the threats to the schools, made on Feb. 1, Thompson referred to a “Jewish newtown,” a reference to the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecuticut.

In total, more than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in PhiladelphiaSt. Louis and Rochester, New York, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into JCCs, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year. No explosive device was found after any of the calls.

“The NYPD and the FBI have done an outstanding job in this regard,” Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions, told JTA on Friday. “We at SCN and the Jewish Federations of North America commend them and hold them in the highest regard.”

The threats prompted clamor for President Donald Trump to condemn the anti-Semitism behind the targeting of Jewish institutions.

After initially demurring to comment directly when asked about the spate of recent anti-Semitic incidents, Trump eventually called the threats to the community centers “horrible” and “painful,” and Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to a Jewish cemetery vandalized near St. Louis.

A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Muslim veterans offer to guard Jewish sites across US


Following the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of two Jewish cemeteries, some Muslims on Twitter are offering to help guard Jewish sites.

The tweeters, including some veterans, said they would volunteer to protect JCCs, cemeteries and synagogues, the Huffington Post first reported.

This latest show of solidarity comes after an online fundraising campaign started by two Muslims — and touted by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling — raised more than $150,000 to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis last week. Some 170 gravestones were toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, Missouri.

One of the founders of the campaign, Linda Sarsour, is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and a harsh critic of Israel.

On Monday, a Muslim man who started an online fundraising campaign for a Florida mosque damaged in an arson attempt said that many of the donors to the campaign, which raised $60,000, were Jewish.

“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Gold-stein, Rubin, Fisher…. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called ‘Chai’. It wishes the recipient a long life,” Adeel Karim, a member of the Islamic Society of New Tampa wrote Monday in a Facebook post. “The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I’m floored.”

Over the past two months, nearly 90 bomb threats have been called into 72 Jewish institutions in 30 states and one Canadian province. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was also vandalized.

President Donald Trump condemned the anti-Semitic threats on Tuesday night in his first speech to a joint session of Congress.

Headstones lay on the ground in Philadelphia on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Concern, not panic


There has been an epidemic of anti-Semitic threats and acts of vandalism directed at Jewish institutions in the United States over the past several weeks. The Anti-Defamation League has reported more than 90 incidents this year.

The level of concern and the number of incidents even led to President Trump opening his speech to the joint session of the Congress last night with a robust condemnation of what has transpired, “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”

His remarks may help quell some of the anxiety in the Jewish community which was exacerbated by his recent suggestion that the incidents may have been “false flag” operations designed to discredit him.

Obviously, simply the fact that Jewish cemeteries and centers are the targets of threats tombstone topplingand vandalism is, in itself, troubling. What is not clear is whether they reflect an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment in the body politic or isolated acts of some of society’s losers.

It is instructive to put the headline-making events in some historical context.

Historically, inflammatory incidents such as these (toppling tombstones) which receive intense media attention tend to promote copycat incidents which take on a life of their own—often unrelated to an underlying sentiment of anti-Semitism that motivated the precipitating incident.

In 1959-60 an epidemic of anti-Semitic garnered world-wide attention, the ADL published a study, Swastika 1960 .”On December 24, 1959, a swastika was painted on a synagogue in Cologne, Germany. On December 26, the first wave of similar incidents occurred in the United States. For the next nine weeks, swastikas were smeared on Jewish temples, on Jewish community centers, on Jewish homes, on churches, on sidewalks, on college campuses, on automobiles….By the time the epidemic had spent itself, some 643 incidents had occurred.”

Among the study’s conclusions was, “It cannot be disputed that publicity given to the German desecrations and subsequent outbreaks played a major role in setting off further incidents. The offenders, as we saw earlier, often reported that they got the idea from newspapers, from television, and other mass media. It is probable that as early incidents mounted, publicity given to them precipitated other incidents as offenders of otherwise low predisposition were stimulated to participate….”

It is a striking parallel to today, except that today the threshold for a troubled actor to “participate” is so much lower. Anyone can email, call or otherwise threaten and frighten individuals around the globe with a few key strokes or a muffled voice distorter. Domestically, it hardly takes a committed bigot to enter an old cemetery and topple gravestones and then see the results of his handiwork on the 11 o’clock news.

When I advised victims of vandalism in my years at ADL, I invariably suggested that publicity be avoided unless there was already a series of bad acts—inspiring other thugs was to be avoided at all costs.  I knew from experience that press attention on an act of hate, especially if it provoked a public display of emotional injury by the victim, generated copy cats.

There are reasons for concern because of today’s incidents—but not for panic. There are no indications of a wave of anti-Semitism in the US today.

In fact, in the midst of the threats, desecrations and presidential mixed messages there was an under-reported study by the Pew Center two weeks ago which should offer some solace.

Pew published its periodic “religious feeling thermometer” to determine how religious groups feel about each other in the US. Last month’s survey had only better news; the “warmth” meter for Jews and Catholics (historic subjects of American bigotry) is high—even higher than in 2014 when the survey was last done,

Americans express warm feelings toward Jews, with half of U.S. adults rating them at 67 degrees or higher on the 0-to-100 scale…..These warm ratings are not significantly affected by the ratings of Jews themselves, because Jews make up just 2% of the U.S. adult population.

Similarly, about half of U.S. adults (49%) rate Catholics at 67 degrees or higher. But this does include a substantial share of respondents who are themselves Catholic, as Catholics make up roughly one-fifth of the adult population in the U.S. Looking only at non-Catholic respondents, 43% rate Catholics at 67 or higher on the thermometer and 44% place them in the middle range.

The Pew results are worth remembering as we watch the news and witness events that seem to run counter to what the data show. Bad acts and occasional reversals can and will happen, even if the flow of history is favorable. The media will tire of reporting the incidents and they will diminish as the troublemakers get less pay off for their anti-social conduct. The thugs and vandals are not today’s most serious problem.

A row of more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St Louis on Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/Reuters

5 ways to fight back against anti-Semitism


So it turns out that in the year 2017, we need a strategy to combat rising anti-Semitism.

Go figure.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been 100 bomb scares at Jewish institutions nationwide. Last month vandals attacked and desecrated a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery, toppling more than 170 tombstones. The New York Police Department reported a doubling of anti-Semitic crimes in 2017 through Feb. 12 compared with last year, from 13 to 28. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Jewish Journal there’s been a doubling of hate incidents in Los Angeles since the November election as well.

This week began with the vandalism of 75 to 100 gravestones at a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery. On Monday, there was a new wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers, including the Westside JCC.

And since the Journal goes to press Tuesday, you’ll have to read this online for updates. The week’s not over yet.

Our response to all of these fresh outrages have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime.

In the former category is Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s call for his country to prepare for a flood of American Jews fleeing to Israel. In response, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg offered a perfect one-word tweet: “Chill.”

A less hysterical response came from Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who published a 10-point plan the Trump White House could follow to counter rising anti-Semitism from the left and right sides of the political spectrum.

Greenblatt called on the administration to fund a civil rights investigation into the bomb threats, convene a federal inter-agency task force on fighting hate led by an appointed coordinator, support state and local legislation protecting college students from religious harassment and discrimination, breathe life back into the Countering Violent Extremism program, address cyber-hate in a comprehensive manner, increase federal funds for anti-hate content in local schools and “call out bigotry at every opportunity.”

While he is holding his breath for a White House reply to these sensible, minimal steps, I want to offer another list as well, this one aimed at what American Jews could do.

Until now, most of us have done little more than repost reports of anti-Semitic acts on Facebook with sad emoticons and snide remarks about the president or his Jewish daughter and son-in-law. But it is time to stop playing defense, to stop being passive spectators to our own persecution. Here’s my Jewish community to-do list:

1. More cameras, more guards. Your local used car lot has more security cameras than many cemeteries. That has to change. We don’t need Paris-style security cordons around our synagogues and centers, but we do need to beef up surveillance and private interdiction. 

2. Anti-Semitic “SWAT” teams. Remember those volunteer lawyers who swooped down on airports in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s Muslim travel ban?  We need teams of former prosecutors, law enforcement experts and lawyers at the ready who can, in coordination with existing Jewish organizations, help local authorities catch and convict hate perpetrators. And high-profile guard watches at Jewish cemeteries and elsewhere will likely scare off most of the cowards who creep out at night.

3. Fight non-Jewish hate, too. The hate virus is highly contagious. We need to fight it wherever it breeds. Breitbart.com and “The Alex Jones Show” are two Petri dishes of hate.  Every time a Muslim says “boo” in Sweden, there’s a front-page splash on Breitbart, but more than a week since the hate-crime murder of an Indian immigrant at a Kansas bar, Breitbart still has not featured it. Meanwhile, Breitbart did find home page space to attack the Forward newspaper for reporting Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka’s ties to anti-Semitic Hungarian groups.

4. Join forces. Those Muslim groups helping repair Jewish cemeteries? Embrace them. Thank them. Come out when they need help. Yes, you probably don’t see eye to eye with them on Israel or women’s rights, but we’re going to need allies. We are in this particular fight together.

5. Don’t do their job for them. Hate crimes begin with hate speech. The strategy of the alt-right and the Trump administration is to pit Jew against Jew. They want to divide conservative, more religious, Bibi-supporting Jews from more liberal, secular, pro-two state Jews. It was shameful to see mainstream Jewish organizations like Jewish Federations of North America line up behind Trump ambassadorial nominee David Friedman after he used hate speech to describe other Jews — language that only fuels hateful acts.

Look, we needn’t be hysterical, but neither do we have to be passive. I don’t think the American-Jewish community is under dire threat, and I certainly don’t predict a flood of us heading to Israel any time soon. Think of it this way: There are an estimated 200,000 Israelis living in the United States. Many of them are trained by the Israel Defense Forces and have access to America’s bounty of guns and ammunition. I don’t see them running away because some troll speed-dialed a JCC. When push comes to shove, I see them — and all of us — taking the fight to the enemy.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Sophie Golden, in striped shirt and headband, uses social media to coordinate meet-ups with her camp friends. Photo by Davina Golden

For JCCs threatened three times, stockpiling blankets, diapers and resilience


Growing up in a small town in Georgia, Harriet Shirley may have had more exposure to Jews and anti-Semitism than the rest of her fellow Christians. She had Jewish acquaintances, read Holocaust nonfiction as a teen and later visited concentration camps on a trip to Europe.

But she was still dumbfounded when the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked as the health and wellness director, received three separate bomb threats since Jan. 9. Shirley had assumed anti-Semitic violence was a thing of the past — a notion her Jewish co-workers did not share.

“Honestly, it makes me angry,” she said. “It also makes me sad. I recognize that a lot of my co-workers have had to live with this stuff their whole lives. It just makes me sad.

“It’s so unfortunate and so stupid that this kind of hatred against any group still exists. We really ought to be past this.”

Since the beginning of 2017, nearly 100 bomb threats have been made to more than 70 JCCs and Jewish day schools across the United States. For most, the threat is a one-time event. But the Nashville JCC and two others — in Birmingham, Alabama, and Wilmington, Delaware — each have endured three.

All three were hit on Jan. 18, when at least 30 JCCs across the country were victimized. Nashville and Birmingham were part of the first wave on Jan. 9, and Birmingham and Wilmington were hit in the last one on Monday. All the calls in five waves of threats have been hoaxes.

The JCCs report that members are still entering the doors. But for staff, the repeated threats have been a shocking and exhausting experience that at times has made everyday work a challenge.

“It’s trying, it’s stressful, it’s everything the people behind these telephone threats want to happen,” said Seth Katzen, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, which shares a building with the Wilmington JCC. “But we stay vigilant, we stay on task, we follow protocol, we follow procedure. I’m sure it’s on the back of people’s minds, but we’re a resilient community. We will not let this get to us.”

In all three facilities, nearly all the members have stayed despite the bomb threats. In Nashville, only one of 1,600 members has dropped their membership due to the threats. In Birmingham, two of 200 preschoolers have left the school. Katzen said to the best of his knowledge, none of the more than 100 students had left the Wilmington JCC’s preschool.

Leslie Sax, executive director of the Nashville JCC, attributed its high retention rate to its security procedures, which were first formulated following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The building is removed from a busy area, and a guard is always present near the preschool. In addition, Sax has sent emails out to members following each of the five waves of JCC bomb threats, whether or not her facility was targeted.

“We always struggle: Are we too secure for friendliness?” Sax said. “It’s that balancing act we all have to do. We want to be welcoming, but we also want to be secure.”

Even as the JCC has tried to maintain its routine, Sax has noticed people making adjustments to deal with the threat of an evacuation. The JCC has stockpiled diapers and formula for preschoolers, as well as blankets for swimmers. Some swimmers now leave their car keys near the pool instead of in the locker room. And to stay in contact with the media, Sax has learned to take her phone charger with her in case she needs to exit the building.

“To go for a fire drill, you know to leave the building and congregate,” Sax said. “But when you don’t know if you’re going to be able to go back in the building, you think about what exactly are we going to need to bring?”

All three of the most-targeted JCCs are in relatively small Jewish communities. But neither Sax nor Betzy Lynch, executive director of the Levite JCC in Birmingham, feels that they’ve been targeted due to their size.

“I’m going to make the assessment that it’s probably coincidental,” Lynch said. “I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason to why people are chosen or how they’re chosen. Maybe it’s just random and we got the short straw multiple times.”

Lynch said the community’s intimate feel has been an advantage in dealing with the threats. Birmingham’s Muslims, whose mosque recently received death threats, have also reached out, organizing a recent interfaith prayer rally together with the Jewish community.

“This community is incredibly resilient,” Lynch said. “The outpouring of support we’ve had from the general community as well has been phenomenal. Birmingham is an incredibly generous and philanthropic and faithful community.”

Shirley, the Nashville health director, said she continues to be shocked by the threats. In the meantime, she’s tried to use them to teach her 14-year-old twins about the experience of being a minority in the United States.

“[I’m] trying to explain to them that even though we don’t really recognize it, our heritage, our family group, is one of privilege in a way,” she said. “We’re not part of any of those groups that’s the focus of hatred.”

President Donald Trump in Oxon Hill, Md., on Feb. 24. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump reportedly said JCC threats may be trying to ‘make others look bad’


President Donald Trump reportedly said that a wave of threats against Jewish communal institutions may be a false flag.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish and a Democrat, described a meeting of state attorney generals and Trump on Tuesday to BuzzFeed.

Trump called the wave of bomb threats in recent weeks forcing the evacuation of nearly 100 Jewish community centers and other institutions countrywide as “reprehensible,” Shapiro said, but added: “Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people – or to make others – look bad.”

Shapiro said Trump said it was “the reverse” two or three times but did not clarify what he meant.

Earlier the same day Anthony Scaramucci, a top adviser to the Trump transition team who is under consideration for a White House job, advanced a similar argument on Twitter, saying the threats may be aimed at harming Trump.

“It’s not yet clear who the #JCC offenders are,” Scaramucci said. “Don’t forget @TheDemocrats effort to incite violence at Trump rallies.”

There were several incidents of violence at Trump campaign rallies during last year’s election, but no evidence linking the offenders to an organized Democratic Party effort.

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

7 more Western JCCs, San Francisco ADL office evacuated in bomb threat wave


Seven additional Jewish community centers, all in Western states, and the San Francisco office of the Anti-Defamation League were evacuated after bomb threats, bringing Monday’s total of threats to 29.

The Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community, reported JCC evacuations in Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona; Orange County, Palo Alto, San Diego and Long Beach in California, and Mercer Island in suburban Seattle, Washington state. The evacuations brought to 28 the number of JCCs and Jewish schools evacuated Monday in the fifth wave of threats since the beginning of the year.

Earlier evacuations in the day were reported in North Carolina, Michigan, Rhode Island, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. They included 13 JCCs and eight schools.

The JCC Association of North America urged federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators of the hoaxes.

“Anti-Semitism of this nature should not and must not be allowed to endure in our communities,” David Posner, the director of strategic performance at the JCCA, said in a statement. “The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country. Actions speak louder than words.”

Melanie Steinhardt comforting Becca Richman at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia on Feb. 26. Photo by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

White House condemns Jewish cemetery vandalism, JCC bomb threats ‘in strongest terms’


The Trump administration denounced vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country.

The condemnation, made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, came hours after at least 16 Jewish community centers were hit with bomb threats in the fifth wave of such incidents this year, and a day after about 100 headstones were found toppled at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia in the second such incident in a week.

“The president continues to be deeply disappointed and concerned by the reports of further vandalism at Jewish cemeteries,” Spicer said Monday during a media briefing. “The cowardly destruction in Philadelphia this weekend comes on top of similar accounts from Missouri and threats made to Jewish community centers around the country.

“The president continues to condemn these and any other form of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms,” he continued, adding that “[n]o one in America should feel afraid to follow the religion of their choosing freely and openly.”

Last week, President Donald Trump — following pressure from Jewish groups and political leaders to condemn anti-Semitism in the wake of what has been called an uptick in incidents since he was elected — said “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop.”

Trump came under fire earlier this month for his response to a reporter who asked at a news conference about the prior JCC bomb threats and what the government’s response would be to “an uptick in anti-Semitism.” Although the reporter did not suggest Trump was anti-Semitic, the president answered by denying he is an anti-Semite and called the question “insulting.” He ordered the reporter to sit down and did not answer the question.

People evacuate the Jewish Community Center in Davie, Fla., on Feb. 27. Screenshot from Twitter

Bomb threats hit at least 21 JCCs, Jewish day schools across country


At least 21 Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools across the country received bomb threats on Monday in the latest wave of threats to hit Jewish institutions.

The incidents are the fifth wave of such threats in less than two months, in which 89 bomb threats have been called in to 72 Jewish institutions in 30 U.S. states and one Canadian province, according to the JCC Association of North America.

Among the affected JCCS on Monday are Asheville, North Carolina, and Davie, Florida, both of which were evacuated to local churches, as well as JCCs in York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis; Tarrytown and Staten Island, New York; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Birmingham, Alabama; and Wilmington, Delaware. Jewish day schools in Rockville, Maryland; Fairfax, Virginia; and Davie, outside Miami, were also evacuated after receiving bomb threats. Institutions in Michigan and Rhode Island were also targeted.

All affected institutions were cleared and resumed normal operations as of the late afternoon, according to the JCC Association of North America.

Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, told JTA shortly after reports of the bomb threats began coming in that his organization was working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to identify the perpetrators and stop the threats. SCN is an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America that advises Jewish groups and institutions on security. SCN also is working closely with the Anti-Defamation League, Goldenberg said.

Calling the continued threats “disturbing,” he said they are “impacting the lives of our communities out there.”

Goldenberg also said the Jewish institutions are “behaving in an exemplary manner” in the wake of the threats.

“Our Jewish schools and our JCCs continue to train for this, continue to execute well-placed measures,” he said, going on to praise the staffs of U.S. Jewish institutions as being “vigilant.”

No actual bombs have been found at any of the dozens of institutions that have received bomb threats in recent weeks.

“The goal of these people is to wear us down,” Goldenberg said. “But we are back in our schools, we are back in our JCCs.”

The JCC Association of North America urged federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators of the hoaxes.

“Anti-Semitism of this nature should not and must not be allowed to endure in our communities,” said David Posner, director of strategic performance at the JCCA, in a statement. “The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he continued.

In the Washington area, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School upper campus in Rockville and Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax both received called-in bomb threats.

Ariel Kohane wears a Donald Trump yarmulke while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Feb. 24. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Did Donald Trump and the Jews have a good week?


Was this, at last, a good week for the Jews and President Donald Trump?

Compared to the Trump administration’s initial few weeks, maybe. The president’s first month saw the White House omit Jews from a statement commemorating the Holocaust, then rebuke Jewish groups that criticized the statement and stay silent as waves of hoax bomb threats hit Jewish community centers. Last week, Trump shut down a Jewish reporter asking a polite question on anti-Semitism. The day before, he began responding to a question on anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory.

But starting with a specific if belated condemnation of Jew hatred on Tuesday, a number of statements and actions by Trump and his associates served to calm Jews who fear a growing specter of anti-Semitism on the right.

Days after angrily shutting down a Jewish journalist who asked about the administration’s plans to counter a spike in anti-Semitism, the president gave his critics what they had been seeking: a specific  condemnation of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop,” he said Tuesday, the day after the fourth wave of JCC bomb threats in five weeks.

In prepared remarks he delivered that day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump said “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and our Jewish community centers are horrible, are painful and they are a reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

The next day, Vice President Mike Pence gave succor to Jews looking for more than words from the administration. Visiting a vandalized Jewish graveyard outside St. Louis, Pence rolled up his sleeves and spent a few minutes clearing away branches and raking the cemetery.

“There is no place in America for hatred, prejudice or anti-Semitism,” Pence said, literally speaking through a megaphone.

But most concerns from Jews about anti-Semitism have been more about Trump’s supporters than the man himself — from tweeters spewing deluges of white supremacist hate to the (as of now) anonymous criminals phoning in bomb threats and knocking over headstones. Right after Election Day, the Anti-Defamation League blamed “the contentious tone from the 2016 election” and said “extremists and their online supporters” have been  “emboldened by the notion that their anti-Semitic and racists views are becoming mainstream.”

But there were signs this week that Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters haven’t infected the Republican Party mainstream. At CPAC, the premier annual confab for political conservatives, attendees raucously cheered Trump — a man they once distrusted — and also made moves to exclude anti-Semitism from their movement.

A Thursday session was dedicated to bashing the “alt-right,” a loose far-right movement that includes anti-Semites and white supremacists, and affirming that it wasn’t part of conservative ideology.

“There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks,” said Dan Schneider, executive director of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. “They are anti-Semites. They are racists.”

Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist who showed up at the conference uninvited, was kicked out of CPAC after holding court with reporters.

Jewish concerns haven’t been completely assuaged. At CPAC, Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who used to run Breitbart, a news website favored by the alt-right, denounced the “corporatist, globalist media,” using a phrase that evokes anti-Semitic tropes of Jews as an internationalist fifth column.

Jewish groups mostly praised the Trump condemnation of anti-Semitism, and especially Pence’s words and actions at the St. Louis cemetery. But nearly all urged the president to follow up with concrete plans for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism. The ADL is circulating a petition imploring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take “immediate actions that will curb anti-Semitic threats and all hate crimes in our schools and communities.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested how that might be done, announcing on Thursday that the state is committing $25 million for safety and security upgrades at Jewish schools and other institutions at risk of hate crimes or attacks. In thanking Cuomo in a tweet, the ADL’s regional director, Evan Bernstein, called it an “ideal example of what an elected official can do: Speak out, have a plan & commit resources to problem.”

Now that the administration seems to have found its voice, the Jewish mainstream is looking for action.

The New Orleans Jewish Community Center. Photo from Google Maps

Bomb threat forces evacuation of New Orleans JCC


A bomb threat forced the evacuation of the New Orleans Jewish Community Center on Thursday morning.

A phone call threatening a bomb attack was made to the JCC at 9:15 a.m., Katie Steiner of WWL-TV in New Orleans reported in a Twitter post. People were allowed back into the building about two hours after they were evacuated.

JCC staffers told another WWL reporter, Lyons Yellin, who was working out at the facility, that the bomb threat was a recording.

New Orleans Mayor MItch Landrieu tweeted after the incident: “Be clear, anti-semitism will not be tolerated in NOLA.”

This week, the national headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, a San Diego-area JCC and a North Carolina Jewish day school were subjected to phoned-in bomb threats.

On Monday, 11 JCCs across the country received bomb threats from callers, the fourth such wave of threats in five weeks.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Family JCC.

JCC near San Diego evacuated after emailed bomb threat


A San Diego-area Jewish community center was evacuated after receiving a bomb threat in an email.

It was the second time in three weeks that the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla had to be evacuated.

After the JCC received the email early Tuesday morning, the San Diego Police Department swept the building and did not find any explosives. The JCC was reopened by 7 a.m.

One day earlier, 11 JCCs across the country received phone calls containing bomb threats.

The La Jolla JCC was evacuated on Jan. 31 after receiving a bomb threat phone call along with 16 other JCCs across the country. It was one of four waves of bomb threats to JCCs in about five weeks.

President Donald Trump at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Feb. 21. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

White House: Trump will not tolerate anti-Semitism


During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Tuesday, President Donald Trump addressed, at last, the recent spike in anti-Semitism. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

In a memo sent to Jewish Insider, the White House insisted that “anti-Semitic threats, attacks, and vandalism will not be tolerated by the Trump administration” and that the recent bomb threats and acts of vandalism will continue to be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the Department of Justice.

 

On Monday, 11 Jewish Community Centers (JCC) across the U.S. received bomb threats. Since January, 54 JCCs have been targeted across 27 states. Police in Missouri also reported 100 headstones at Jewish cemeteries damaged or toppled during the past week.

The White House said that despite the perception that Trump has turned a blind eye on an increase in anti-Semitic incidents, “this issue is near and dear to the President’s heart, as a religious man himself and as the father of a Jewish daughter and grandfather of Jewish grandchildren.”

JCCs “serve a critical role in their communities, opening their doors for people of all backgrounds to share in their resources and participate in their activities,” the memo read, reflecting Trump’s remarks earlier in the day.

The President’s first public denunciation was welcomed by Jewish community leaders and Jewish civil rights groups as a positive step that would help soothe concerns among U.S. Jews.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), wrote on Twitter: “Glad @POTUS stated #antisemitism is horrible. Now need @whitehouse to share plans on how to “stop” it. ADL ready to help”

“I welcome the clear condemnation of anti -Semitism by POTUS,” Abe Foxman, former Director of the ADL and current Director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, told Jewish Insider. “I just wish it had not taken so long to come.”

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called Trump’s statement “pathetic” and the acknowledgment as a “band-aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected” the Administration.

“His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record,” the Center’s Executive Director Steven Goldstein said in a statement. “Make no mistake:  The Anti-Semitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration… When President Trump responds to Anti-Semitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lamented the Anne Frank Center for its criticism of Trump’s slow response. “I wish that they had praised the President for his leadership in this area,” Spicer said at the daily press briefing. “The President has made clear since the day he was elected and frankly through the campaign that he seeks to unite the country… Today, I think, was an unbelievably forceful comment by the President as far as his denunciation of the actions that are currently targeted towards Jewish community centers. But I think that he’s been very clear previous to this… I wish that they had praised the President for his leadership in this area.”

Spicer further expressed frustration over repeated criticisms the Administration has faced regarding anti-Semitism. “It’s ironic that, no matter how many times he talks about this, that it’s never good enough,” he emphasized.

Foxman also blasted Goldstein’s response as “inappropriate and politicized.”

“The Anne Frank Center does not speak for me as a survivor or as an American Jew,” said Foxman, who was also critical of Trump’s dealing with the issue.

Last week, the President berated a Jewish reporter for asking him how he planned to address concerns in the Jewish community relating to the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents and bomb threats against Jewish centers across the country. A day earlier, during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump boasted about his Electoral College victory and reminded the media that his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, three grandchildren and many friends are Jewish in response to an Israeli reporter’s question on anti-Semitism.

Trump’s statement on Tuesday came after repeated calls by Jewish community leaders and public officials to speak out and forcefully deal with the issue. On Monday evening, Ivanka Trump noted on Twitter: “America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers #JCC.”

Meanwhile in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, called for a global summit in which world leaders would declare war against anti-Semitism and bigotry.

White House senior advisor Steve Bannon at the White House on Jan. 28. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump, the Jews and the political weaponization of anti-Semitism


Was that so hard?

At some point in the past week, it looked like President Donald Trump was never going to use “anti-Semitism” in a sentence. It took a fourth series of hoax bomb threats at JCCs around the country and imprecations from Jewish groups across the ideological spectrum for the president to at last use the “A” word.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop,” Trump said Tuesday morning. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and our Jewish community centers are horrible, are painful and they are a reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

That it took so long for Trump to condemn anti-Semitism after twice being asked about it last week, and coming on the heels of a White House International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that somehow omitted any mention of the Jews, was “mind-boggling” to many groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which said so in a tweet.

It had reached a point that I already started imagining a White House Passover greeting that didn’t mention the Jews.

“Starting at sundown, the world will come together to remember certain events in Egypt,” it would begin, and end with, “I’ve made it clear that all plagues are horrible.”

What made Trump’s demurrals stranger is that denunciations of anti-Semitism are to presidential declarations what kosher symbols are to supermarket goods: It doesn’t hurt to have one, and only Jews usually notice.

So why did it take the administration five tries to get it right? I am counting the two news conferences, in which Trump basically punted on the question from two Jewish reporters; a statement from the White House on Monday that denounced “hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind” without mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism, and daughter Ivanka’s tweet saying “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. .” The JCC hashtag was a nice touch, but not exactly a Queen Esther-style declaration of co-religious solidarity.

Pundits spent the past week trying to explain Trump’s hesitation. Peter Beinart blamed narcissism, using the theory that when Trump hears “anti-Semitism,” he can’t help but take it as a personal attack that he must fend off. I wondered if it was simple belligerence — that the more you ask this president for something, the more he is likely to say “you can’t make me.”

Or maybe he was just annoyed at the ADL, the group most identified with combating anti-Semitism, for repeatedly calling him and his campaign out for either ignoring or encouraging intolerance. Maybe Trump saw CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s Feb. 17 column in The Washington Post recalling how “the Trump campaign repeatedly tweeted and shared anti-Semitic imagery and language,” thus “allowing this poison to move from the margins into the mainstream of the public conversation.”

The most ominous explanation, offered by Bradley Burston from the left-wing Haaretz newspaper and a surprisingly outspoken Chuck Todd of NBC News, was that Trump was throwing a bone to — or at least trying not to alienate — the “alt-right” trolls who formed a small but vocal part of his winning coalition.

“Mr. President, we believe you and many other Jews believe you, so please make it clear that not only are you not an anti-Semite but that you reject people who are even if they did vote for you,” Todd said last week.

If Trump had been struggling with a political calculation, it was reminiscent of one that played out in the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama was being pressed to disavow an endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. When he was asked about Farrakhan during a debate with fellow Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, you could almost see the thought bubble over Obama’s head as he weighed rejecting Farrakhan without alienating supporters who considered him a hero.

Obama answered by reiterating his “denunciation” of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, leading to a semantic debate with Clinton over the distinction between “denouncing and rejecting.” Eventually the ADL’s then national director, Abe Foxman, declared that Obama had cleared the Farrakhan hurdle.

If Trump’s allergy to the “A” word is a political calculation, what would it be? He knows that three out of every four Jews didn’t vote for him, and perhaps someone is whispering to him, a la James Baker, that he gains no advantage by caving to a special interest as liberal as the Jews.

Trump’s critics pin the issue on his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who came to the Trump campaign after steering Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt-right, among other right-wing movements. In turn, Bannon’s defenders note that Breitbart is enthusiastically pro-Israel and often keeps tabs on anti-Semitism.

But search “anti-Semitism” at Breitbart and a pattern emerges — one that could explain the week that was. The site seems most exercised about Jew hatred when it is committed by Muslims, members of the left wing in Europe, and far left and anti-Israel activists on American college campuses. When it does report on hate crimes in the United States, its coverage is almost always skeptical, highlighting hate-crime “hoaxes” or quoting those who deny that there has been a surge in hate crimes here or in Britain since the U.S. elections or Brexit.

This week, when much of the press corps was focusing on how and whether Trump would denounce anti-Semitism, Joel Pollak, a senior editor-at-large at Breitbart, was accusing the media of hyping fears of anti-Semitism. Pollak blames an “ongoing pattern of false ‘hate crimes’” and the media’s reluctance to report on left-wing anti-Semitism. But mostly he blames general “anti-Trump hysteria.”

“Trump’s critics seem to want to believe false accusations of antisemitism, which justify their hatred of him and maintain a sense of outrage and unity among activists,” writes Pollak.

For Pollak and other Breitbart contributors, the reporting and denunciation of anti-Semitism is a partisan weapon wielded by the left to discredit the right. (Just as Trump asserted that it’s a charge wielded by a dishonest media to discredit him.) Of course, Breitbart also politicizes anti-Semitism, using it as a scarlet “A” to be worn, almost exclusively, by Muslims, campus radicals, self-hating Jews and European leftists. In fact, it has become an increasingly familiar trope both on the left and the right that the other is more anti-Semitic.

At least both sides agree that anti-Semitism is bad, even if they hesitate to take responsibility for the version that metastasizes among their ideological allies. They want to target the Jew haters but are wary about friendly fire.

Maybe the mistake of Jewish groups in seeking a strong response from Trump is that they are living in a simpler past, when both sides could agree that anti-Semitism was an evil, no matter the perpetrators or their politics.

A complex in Wilmington, Del., housing four Jewish organizations was evacuated after receiving a bomb threat on January 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of Siegel JCC in Wilmington

Wiesenthal Center calls for task force to catch callers making JCC bomb threats


The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to set up a task force to catch the callers who have made false bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the country.

In its statement issued Tuesday, the Jewish human rights NGO said it also called on President Donald Trump to outline his administration’s plan to combat what the center called “surging anti-Semitism.”

The statement said the center appreciated “the efforts made by law enforcement to protect people of all faiths,” but added that “given the current circumstances,” it was urging Session to create the task force “with the assignment of identifying and capturing the culprit or culprits who seek to terrorize American Jewry through their threats.”

“The multi-pronged threats of anti-Semitism today demand concerted action,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, dean and associate dean, respectively, of the center, said in the statement. “We look to President Trump to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of anti-Semitism and hate in America head-on in a speech at a time and place of his choosing.

“We need lead leadership from the top to effectively combat the hate.”

Trump on Tuesday morning condemned anti-Semitism, calling it “horrible” and saying it “has to stop.”

Jewish groups and political leaders have called on Trump to speak out against anti-Semitism, especially after four waves of bomb threats called in to dozens of JCCs in the past five weeks.

The JCC Association of North America said that since Jan. 9, there have been 69 bomb threat incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states and one Canadian province. All were hoaxes but forced the evacuation of many of the buildings.

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations speaking to the media in Washington, D.C. Dec. 10, 2015. Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images.

Muslim civil rights group offers $5,000 reward for information on JCC bomb threats


A Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who made false bomb threats to Jewish community centers.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, made the offer Monday, hours after bomb threats were called in to 11 JCCs across the country, leading most of them to evacuate their buildings while police and FBI searched for explosives.

The threats — the fourth wave in about five weeks — targeted JCCs in Birmingham, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Paul, Tampa, Albuquerque, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Buffalo.

“It is the duty of American Muslims to offer support to the Jewish community and any minority group targeted in the recent spike in hate crimes nationwide,” CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement. “We hope this reward will aid in the swift apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators.”

Awad noted the “tremendous level of support” offered to Muslim Americans by the Jewish community when Muslims have been targeted by hate in recent months.

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 20. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

After much prodding, Trump condemns anti-Semitism


President Donald Trump denounced anti-Semitism a day after bomb threats were made to 11 Jewish community centers across the country and a large-scale cemetery was vandalized in the St. Louis area.

Under pressure to condemn anti-Semitism in the wake of what has been called an uptick in incidents since he was elected, Trump told MSNBC on Tuesday morning, “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop.”

The president made the remarks at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., after taking a tour. His daughter Ivanka was with him on the tour; a day earlier she had called for the protection of religious institutions in a tweet using the hashtag #JCC.

Asked by reporter Craig Melvin if his statement meant he was denouncing anti-Semitism “once and for all,” Trump replied: “Of course, and I do it whenever I get the chance to do it.”

Last week, Trump was asked during a news conference about the prior JCC bomb threats and what the government’s response would be to “an uptick in anti-Semitism.” Although the reporter did not suggest Trump was anti-Semitic, the president answered by denying he is an anti-Semite and called the question “insulting.” He ordered the reporter to sit dowm, and did not answer the question.

Jewish groups and political leaders have called on Trump to speak out against anti-Semitism, especially after four waves of bomb threats called in to dozens of JCCs across the country in the past five weeks. After yesterday’s bomb threat hoaxes were reported, officials at various Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, issued remarks urging the president to make a personal condemnation of anti-Semitism.

Trump later told Melvin in a one-on-one interview about the racial divide in America that the tour was “a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms. The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and our Jewish community centers are horrible, are painful and they are a reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

On Tuesday morning, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, called on Trump to condemn anti-Semitism.

“JCC threats, cemetery desecration & online attacks are so troubling & they need to be stopped. Everyone must speak out, starting w/ @POTUS,” she tweeted.