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Jewish bomb threat suspect changes the narrative on anti-Semitism

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Many Jewish groups blamed white supremacists, emboldened by Donald Trump’s campaign, for the bomb threats that have plagued Jewish institutions since the beginning of this year. It appears the groups were wrong.
by BEN SALES, NEW YORK | Mar 30, 2017

The news that one Jewish teen - an Israeli, no less - was behind most of the approximately 150 bomb threats that have hit Jewish community centres since the start of 2017 is a shocking twist in light of months in which the Anti-Defamation League and other groups pointed their collective finger at the far right.

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Centre on Extremism, at a recent news conference on the bomb threats. “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.”

The ADL has repeatedly charged Trump with emboldening extremists, anti-Semites and far-right groups in the US. Other groups were even more explicit in linking rising anti-Semitic acts this year to the new president.

On January 10, following the first wave of JCC bomb threats, Bend The Arc, a liberal Jewish group, said: “Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats against Jewish institutions and individuals.”

In February, the Anne Frank Centre for Mutual Respect said in a statement to Trump: “Rightly or wrongly, the most vicious anti-Semites in America are looking at you and your administration as a nationalistic movement granting them permission to attack Jews.”

But the perpetrator of the anti-Semitic acts does not fit the profile of a white supremacist. According to reports, he’s a mentally ill Israeli-American Jewish teenager.

He worked from home, using a computer lab with sophisticated equipment, encryption and transmission systems, and a powerful antenna, according to reports. And his father may have known what he was doing.

Israel’s anti-fraud squad arrested the 19-year-old suspect at his home in southern Israel and searched the premises last week Thursday. He was brought to court and ordered held until this week Thursday.

The other suspect in the bomb threats, arrested earlier in March, also does not appear connected to the far right. He’s a left-wing African-American former journalist who apparently made the calls in a convoluted vendetta against a former romantic partner.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JTA last week Thursday that the organisation stands by its prognosis of a surge in anti-Semitism and hatred in the US since the campaign. Aside from the JCC bombings, Greenblatt pointed to a range of other hateful activities tied to white supremacists, from abuse of journalists on Twitter and harassment of Jews in Whitefish, Montana, to a South Carolina man who plotted a mass shooting at a synagogue.

"The impact is still the same: You've got children, families, the elderly, teens and others who have been terrorised by these attacks," Greenblatt said.

The JCC Association of North America said it was “troubled” by the news that the suspect is Jewish, while the Jewish Federations of North America called the news “heartbreaking.”

For long-time observers of anti-Semitism, the news showed the need to be cautious when analysing hateful acts. Former ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, who has previously called for cooler heads in responding to recent hateful acts, said last Thursday that the arrest shows the pitfalls of making assumptions. “Always take these things seriously, but don’t jump to conclusions,” Foxman told JTA.

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said this incident shows Jews may not be as hated in America as it may have seemed. He cited a recent study by the Pew Research Centre showing Jews to be the most popular religious group in America. “It’s good to take a middle ground,” he said. “Yes, there are people who hate Jews, but we’re not seeing storm troopers at the gate.”

Still, Sarna and Foxman noted the string of other anti-Semitic acts recently - the cemetery desecrations and swastika graffiti, as well as a deluge of anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter. Because anti-Semitic acts, beyond the JCC threats, remain frequent, Foxman does not believe that last Thursday’s arrest will lead to anyone downplaying future acts of anti-Semitism.

“It’s there,” Foxman said of anti-Semitism. “So there’s one guy who, whatever his problem was, that doesn’t change the fact that every day there are incidents of anti-Semitism in this country.” (JTA)

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