Israel's Bomb Threat Arrest Leads to Varied Jewish Verdicts

'I’ve long been of the position that a lot of this anti-Semitism furor has been overblown, and this would seem to underscore that,' says Marc Zell, the director of Republicans Overseas Israel.

New York City Police (NYPD) officers stand outside The Jewish Children's Museum following a bomb threat in Brooklyn, on March 9, 2017.
New York City Police (NYPD) officers stand outside The Jewish Children's Museum following a bomb threat in Brooklyn, on March 9, 2017. BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

Prominent Jewish representatives drew different conclusions Thursday from the arrest of an American-Israeli teen suspected of being behind a host of fake bomb threats directed at Jewish institutions and other targets worldwide.

Marc Zell, the director of Republicans Overseas Israel, said the suspect’s identity was proof of his longstanding position that fears of rising anti-Semitism in the United States had been largely exaggerated.

“I’ve long been of the position that a lot of this anti-Semitism furor has been overblown, and this would seem to underscore that,” he said.

Although his intention was not to condone or “make light” of anti-Semitism, Zell said, “a lot of the uproar about anti-Semitism among American Jewish leaders and Democratic politicians – particularly those going after Donald Trump and his administration – has been over the top, as this would suggest.”

Ricki Lieberman, a Democratic Party fundraiser and activist who lives in Israel, said it would be presumptuous to draw any such conclusions based simply on the identity of the suspect.

“If it turns out that this is true,” she said, “then this is obviously the work of a disturbed mind, and it doesn’t excuse away the increasing number of episodes of anti-Semitism in the United States. It appears there may be many sources for the bomb threats and similar actions, and it is all very sad news.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also responded to the arrest.

"While the details of this crime remain unclear, the impact of this individual’s actions is crystal clear: These were acts of anti-Semitism. These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert."

"Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern. No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers.  JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant," he added.

Although it is not yet clear what motivated the suspect, Sara Hirschhorn, an Oxford scholar whose expertise is American Jews living in Israel, said his actions suggest the gulf between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is widening.

“This perpetrator may have even viewed the continuity of Jewish life in the Diaspora as a threat to his goals in Israel or was willing to bargain away Diaspora Jewish security for the future of Jewish life in the State of Israel,” said Hirschhorn, a university research lecturer and Sidney Brichto Fellow in Israel Studies at the University of Oxford.

“This seems to be part of a larger trend regarding right-wing Zionist supporters of the Trump administration, who seem to have tolerated its alliances with the alt-right at home in exchange for ‘pro-Israel’ policy abroad.”

Hirschhorn’s book “City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement” is scheduled for release by Harvard University Press in May. Among the roughly 2,000 American Jews who move to Israel and to the West Bank settlements each year, she said, “not a few have been involved in criminal activity, settler terrorism, and plots against the government and its allies.”

Moreover, she noted, concerns have been mounting about the disproportionately large share of American-Israeli teens represented in radical right-wing groups like Kahane Chai and the hilltop youth, “whose culture of illegalism and avowal to use violence, if necessary, to overturn what they perceive as an anti-Jewish secular regime and establish a halakhic state may have inspired this teenager’s actions.”