Analysis

Bomb Threat Suspect’s Identity Embarrassing for Jews, but Ultimately a Relief

It may be a blow to Jewish pride and a political black eye to those who blamed the Trump camp for the JCC threats, but this means that a fearful Jewish community can finally exhale.

People evacuated because of a bomb threat return to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla. Jewish centers and schools across the nation are coping with another wave of bomb threats as officials in Philadelphia begin raising money to repair and restore hundreds of vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery.
Wilfredo Lee/AP

Is there anything worse than conspiracy theorists appearing to be right? 

Jews cried foul when President Donald Trump bizarrely appeared to pin blame on his opponents for being behind the disturbing waves of bomb threats at Jewish centers, hinting at a false flag operation designed to make him look bad. 

At the time, Trump seemed to be drawing his inspiration from white supremacist conspiracy theorists on the Internet who were charging that the threats and other anti-Semitic acts were a grand plot cooked up by the Jews themselves. His insinuations felt like classic victim-blaming and vilification. Coupled with Trump’s reluctance to condemn the anti-Semitic acts, on top of his problematic Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, added up to what seemed to be at best, pandering to racist "alt-right" supporters at best, or at worst, a troubling indication that he believed it himself.

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Now, those who condemned and criticized Trump are bemoaning the fact that his strange comments contained a grain of truth – the primary suspect is, in fact, Jewish.  

As it turns out, an American-Israeli teenager in the southern city of Ashkelon is suspected to be the culprit behind hundreds of the bomb threats that so rattled the American Jewish community. On Thursday, the cybercrime unit of Israel's national fraud squad, arrested the young man after it received information from the FBI and other overseas law enforcement authorities. In hindsight, it seems Trump’s comments stemmed from the fact that he was briefed by the FBI at an early stage that a suspect was being tracked down in Israel, and not because he follows David Duke’s Twitter feed. 

A limited number of details about the suspect have been made available so far, but claims made by him lawyer suggests that the suspect might be a mentally unstable lone wolf, albeit technologically sophisticated enough to master voice-masking and location-hiding computer software. It also seems that his behavior wasn’t inspired by Trump - Israeli authorities are telling the media that he’d been up to this mischief, threatening institutions on a number of continents for as long as two years. 

The Israeli-American teen, arrested for bomb threats against Jewish centers worldwide, in court, Be'er Sheva, March 23, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

Justifiably, Trump’s Jewish critics on the left - present company included - feel a measure of shock, dismay and embarrassed by Thursday's development. It already felt like a stain on liberals when a disgraced African-American former journalist from a left-wing website Juan Thompson, was arrested in early March, charged with eight JCC threats, as some sort of bizarre revenge plot against his Jewish girlfriend. 

Still, it was pointed out at the time that Thompson appeared only to be a small-time copycat. Surely the bulk of the automated hoax calls, Jews and non-Jews on the left told themselves, were perpetrated by the alt-right white supremacists they were sure committed these terrible deeds. Others were equally convinced that it was more likely that Islamist anti-Israel terrorists could be behind the threats. 

The shock at the arrest hadn’t worn off before Jewish Trump supporters quickly climbed on their high horse, demanding an apology from the critics who charged the president’s supporter for a perceived post-election surge in anti-Semitism.

Leading the calls for an apology to Trump was Mort Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, who said that it was warranted since it is “clear that, unlike what many of the pundits said, it was not the work of a Trump-loving white nationalist.” 

Klein and his ilk may well deserve a moment of vindication at the news of this arrest, but it doesn’t change the fact that it took an unnecessary amount of effort to elicit a condemnation of the anti-Semitic acts from the president earlier in the year. And, it should be pointed out, there’s no way that a teenager sitting in southern Israel could also be responsible for knocking over headstones in Jewish cemeteries. 

No Jews or Israelis - on the right or the left - should in any way feel good about this outcome. It is, after all, a real blow to discover that the person behind the terrifying threats was one of their own, and a troubling hit to the credibility of the community when it faces threats in the future.  

Still, a healthy dose of perspective and common sense should remind even Trump’s harshest detractors in the Jewish community that this strange twist is far from the worst possible outcome. 

As JTA editor-in-chief Andrew Silow Carroll tweeted wisely: “This is 'bad news' for Jews only if you discount the real fear and fallout at dozens of JCCs and schools and find it politically vital or emotionally satisfying to know that the perpetrator was the enemy you wanted him to be.”

Indeed. It may be a blow to Jewish pride, and a political black eye to those who blamed the Trump camp for the JCC threats, but the fact remains that this unpleasant but benign explanation - if this suspect is the sole perpetrator - means that a fearful Jewish community can now finally exhale. 

After all, if it is confirmed that the disturbing threats were indeed a hoax perpetrated from overseas, it means there are and never have been real bombs. This is undeniably good news, no matter what one’s political orientation may be. It means that the thousands of Jews and non-Jews at the threatened facilities across the country, many of them children, are not - and never have been - in actual imminent danger. That is what truly matters.