The American Jewish community is receiving bomb threats with a frequency that modern leaders have never seen ― and those threats are a threat against everyone.
The silence from the White House has been deafening. It took President Donald Trump weeks to acknowledge that Jewish community centers across the country have been hit with wave after wave of bomb threats. His address was deemed too little, too late by advocacy groups, and his administration has yet to address nationwide anti-Muslim sentiments with zeal.
Even though the White House has finally recognized the string of bomb threats, Jewish communities are not getting the attention they need, just as hate groups become more emboldened. Threats have been made against 53 Jewish community centers in 26 states and one Canadian province since Jan. 9, according to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America.
“This is not just a message to destabilize Jewish institutions, it’s also a siren call to fellow travelers to do something worse.”
They affect everyone, because each Jewish community center is a vital part of its community.
What Is A Jewish Community Center?
Like your local YMCA, JCCs act as a cornerstone of the neighborhood, offering arts and music programs, preschool, fitness courses, camps and religious services. They’re open to everyone in the community.
JCCs are everywhere, and they’re being threatened.
“In some communities the JCC is the community center for that locality,” David Posner, the JCCA’s security counselor, told The Huffington Post. “It’s important for everyone to be concerned about these bomb threats. [The suspects] are doing this because JCCs are informed by Jewish value ― but they have meaning to the entire community.”
Each time a JCC is threatened, whether it’s a hoax or not, countless days are interrupted ― children’s day camps are halted as police sweep buildings and worried parents leave the office to pick up their kids. Your tax dollars are spent on making the centers safe again.
Communities are suffering, and though the FBI told HuffPost on Tuesday that it’s still investigating four spates of bomb threats, there is no sign that the suspect or suspects will stop calling.
The Threats Have Broad Implications
The JCCA and many local authorities have labeled the threatening calls ― many of which were confirmed to be similar to this one ― a hoax. Yet as the calls gain traction in the media, they’ve become less of an immediate threat and more of a callout to other bigots.
“The person doing this might just feel in their comfort level in making phone calls, where they can disguise the language and make threats ― but propaganda of the deed is a big part of the anti-Semitic neo-Nazi community,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “This is not just a message to destabilize Jewish institutions, it’s also a siren call to fellow travelers to do something worse. That’s why we need a big response back.”
There is no doubt among experts and Jewish community leaders that the calls mark a sharp increase in hateful sentiments over the past few months. Leading human rights organizations are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to create a special task force to look into the threats.
More than 150 members of Congress signed onto a letter Wednesday urging the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to take swift action addressing the bomb threats. The lawmakers also requested that the federal agencies advise Congress on what steps are being taken.
If the hateful acts aren’t properly handled ― by authorities and the White House ― we could be seeing the tip of the iceberg.
“What we do know is hate crimes often occur serially with escalating severity, particularly in a discrete geographic community or if there’s a community that is targeted and there appears to be no pushback from the moral leaders of society,” Levin told HuffPost.
“The question is, how sustained will this trend be?” he said. “Is there going to be an erosion effect that has much more long-term consequences than perhaps a spate of bomb threats, which may be done by a bigot or a sociopath or a copycat?”
To combat the problem, leaders want to see more from Trump’s administration than acknowledgement ― they want a wider investigation, hate crime laws in all 50 states, and more involvement from the Justice Department, says Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
“[Trump] needs to go from saying it’s an issue to taking steps to solving the problem,” he said during an MSNBC appearance on Tuesday. “We saw over the political campaign, some of these white supremacist ideas finding their way into the mainstream … and then after the election we’ve seen a surge of hate crimes. We have lacked the statements on the record from the White House until now, to shoot this down. The extremists love a vacuum.”
Less than 24 hours after Greenblatt’s appearance on national news, the ADL’s headquarters in New York also received a bomb threat.
This post has been updated with information about a letter from members of Congress.