Reality of False Threats

The fake threats by an Israeli from Ashkelon are liable to undermine the battle against anti-Semitism. But anti-Semitism is real, and Israel and the Jewish world must continue to fight it.

The suspect in the bomb threats case, in court, March 2017.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Over the weekend, a 19-year-old Israeli living in Ashkelon was arrested on suspicion of being behind a series of fake bombs threats and other threats against Jewish institutions in the United States, Israel and other places. Police suspect him of responsibility for dozens of bomb threats received by Jewish institutions in the U.S., including those received by 16 Jewish community centers in nine U.S. states earlier this year. He is also suspected of hundreds of other fake threats.

Most of these incidents took place after Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency, and both in Israel and America, many people hastened to claim that there was a connection between his election and rising anti-Semitism. Now, when it turns out the source of many of these threats was a young man from Ashkelon, there is concern that other seemingly anti-Semitic incidents will be greeted with disbelief and even scorn.

Nevertheless, aside from the series of threats that sowed fear in U.S. Jewish communities, there have been several real cases of vandalized graves in Jewish cemeteries throughout the country. The most serious took place in the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, where more than 100 graves were desecrated. The perpetrators of these crimes have not yet been caught.

Moreover, the New York City police reported a jump of 130 percent in incidents against Jews (as well as against Muslims) over the past year. Similar reports have been received from Jewish federations throughout the U.S. Anti-Semitic and hateful remarks on social media in America have also increased markedly in recent years, and this trend has accelerated since Trump announced his candidacy for president, and especially since his election.

One contributory factor has been that Trump’s supporters include racists and neo-Nazis. Additionally, hovering in the background is his senior adviser, Steve Bannon, who turned the internet news site Breitbart into a mouthpiece for groups that support white supremacy, like the so-called alt-right. Nor is it only Bannon who has repeatedly been forced to deny accusations that he is anti-Semitic. Trump himself, after coming under harsh criticism for not speaking out against anti-Semitism, was compelled a few weeks ago to denounce violence against Jews, saying, “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s gonna stop and it’s got to stop.”

The fake threats by an Israeli from Ashkelon are liable to undermine this battle, which is of unparalleled importance, by sending the message that the danger of anti-Semitism has been inflated due to political needs and self-interested motives. But anti-Semitism does exist in the U.S., as well as in other countries. Though it’s vital to ground accusations in evidence and avoid relying on unreliable sources, the Jewish people and the State of Israel must continue waging this important battle.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.