Anti-Semitic Crime in America: Latest on the hate crimes targeting Jews across the country
On Monday, authorities in St. Louis confirmed a local Jewish cemetery's desecration by vandals. That same day, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America reported yet another rash of bomb threats at centers nationwide.
And those incidents came only days after President Donald Trump brushed off a question about rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. from an Orthodox Jewish reporter at a White House press conference — telling him first to "sit down," then saying "I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life."
But the question the reporter was asking — about how the government is planning to respond to what have now been more than 50 threats against Jewish Community Centers, and other Jewish centers, across the U.S. — is on the minds of many. Here are some of the disturbing facts about the rash of threats and incidents targeting American Jews in the past several weeks.
69 JCCs have received threats
A total of 69 incidents have been reported at 54 JCCs in 27 different states, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing information from the JCCA, a national organization of JCCs. In January alone, JCCs in the U.S. and Canada received almost 60 bomb threats, prompting emergency evacuations and stoking fear among local Jewish communities and their allies.
So far, no bombs have been found, but the actions are stoking a fear that seems to have made many families feel so unsafe that they are no longer sending their children to JCC programs. According to CNN, 50 students have been pulled out of a Florida JCC's daycare and preschool as a result.
The bomb threats aren't just limited to JCCs: On Wednesday, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted that the group's national headquarters was the target of an anonymous bomb threat.
And in January, an Orthodox Jewish Chabad center in Florida was evacuated twice, on two consecutive days, after receiving multiple threatening phone calls. It's not yet clear whether all of the threatening calls are connected, CNN reported, but the FBI is reportedly investigating the threats.
And it's not just bomb threats
The wave of anti-Semitism isn't just coming in the form of coordinated bomb threats, there have been other types of disturbing incidents as well. In 2016, neo-Nazis threatened an armed march against a small Jewish community in the town of Whitefish, Montana, planned for Martin Luther King Day. But when the day of the march rolled around, the only people who showed were counter-protesters who had come out to support the Jewish community. Still, the news of the planned march alarmed many around the country and prompted local and federal officials to step-up security in Whitefish.
There have also been reports of graffitied Swastikas and anti-Semitic messages showing up in communities around the country, from New York to Texas to Minnesota, some targeting specific individuals. While it's difficult to discern just how different the recent surge in anti-Semitism is from other years, it's true that the past few years have seen measurable increases in anti-Semitic incident in the U.S. In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League released data for the year before, and announced that the number of anti-Semitic assaults had risen "dramatically" from 2014 to 2015.
The White House response
In the short time that Trump has been in office, his administration has come under fire for failing to address the uptick in anti-Semitic threats and how the Trump administration may have had a hand in the spreading sentiment. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House released a statement that failed to mention either Jews or anti-Semitism, and then later clarified that the omission was intentional.
On Tuesday, for the first time since his inauguration, Trump responded to the rising threat of anti-Semitism, the New York Times reported. Speaking at the National Museum of African-American History the day after 11 reported bomb threats at JCC locations, the president called the incidents "horrible" and "painful" and a "very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."
For many, Trump's comments were a lackluster — and belated — response to an alarming and pressing threat. In a scathing statement, the Anne Frank Center, which is devoted to preserving and furthering Anne Frank's legacy, criticized Trump's comments on Tuesday as a "Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration" and called the statement "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."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the Anne Frank Center's comments during a White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon, saying that he had seen the statement and adding "I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area." Spicer also called it "ironic" that "no matter how many times [Trump] talks about this that it's never good enough."
Communities rally to fight the hate
Even amid a rush of frightening hate-fueled incidents, there have been plenty of examples of Jews and their allies standing up to the hate in powerful shows of solidarity. After the St. Louis Jewish cemetery reported that 170 headstones had been vandalized, a fundraising campaign organized by Muslim Americans to repair the cemetery met its fundraising goal of $20,000 in just three hours. By Wednesday, the campaign had raised more than $80,000.
In early February, in New York City, when commuters on a subway train noticed that their car was covered in anti-Semitic graffiti and Nazi symbols, several riders banded together to erase it using the tools they had in their bags.
Gregory Locke, one of the riders on the subway car, said in a Facebook post that he had "never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purell," adding, "Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone."