White House Condemns 'anti-Semitic' Threats to Jewish Centers as 'Hate Crimes'

Trump administration urged by entire Senate to up funding for Jewish communities after sixth wave of lethal threats targets at least nine Jewish centers across North America.

Police search a Jewish Community Center after a bomb threat was reported in the Rochester suburb of Brighton, New York, U.S., March 7, 2017.
MIKE BRADLEY/REUTERS

WASHINGTON - White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that threats against Jewish community centers across the United States were "incredibly saddening" and that the Trump administration would continue to denounce them and work towards ending them. 

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Spicer called the incidents "anti-Semitic hate crimes" and said the White House denounces them "in the strongest terms."

On Tuesday, at least nine Jewish community centers across North America and a number of Anti-Defamation League offices received threats of lethal attacks, the sixth such wave since the beginning of the year.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 3, 2017.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

According to AP, a Jewish day school on Chicago's north side was also evacuated for a few hours while police investigated similar threats.

Meanwhile, in a rare display of bipartisan cooperation, all U.S. Senators joined forces to call on the Trump administration to offer support and assistance to the U.S. Jewish community in light of recent anti-Semitic attacks and incidents across the country.

Some 97 senators sent a letter on Tuesday to a number of senior officials in the Trump administration, including their former colleague Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI director James Comey and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

The letter, first reported on Politico, calls on these officials and their agencies to contact Jewish institutions across the U.S. that have received threats or have been vandalized in recent months to offer assistance and work with them to "enhance security measures and improve preparedness."

It also states that there have been close to 100 incidents of bomb threats against Jewish institutions over a relatively short period of time.

The letter also expresses the concern that if these threats are not treated forcefully and the perpetrators not deterred, lives could be put at risk. According Politico's report on Tuesday morning, only three Senators have yet to sign on to the letter – all of them Republicans: Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). All three voiced their support for its content.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signed the letter, and two other Republicans – Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) – were among its initiators, together with Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Bill Nelson (D-FL).

On Monday, Haaretz reported on a different letter, circulating on Capitol Hill, calling on the Trump administration not to cut or weaken the State Department post of "special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism." The letter was initiated in light of recent reports that the Trump administration was considering to not appoint a new envoy to this position, as part of attempts to decrease budget spending at the State Department.

Threats

In New York, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said there were five threats made, including to the Anti-Defamation League, which also received threats to offices in Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C. and in Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Maryland and Toronto.

"This is a moment in time, in history, where forces of hate have been unleashed," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Jewish Community Center on Staten Island that had received threats. "It is exceedingly unsettling."

Federal officials have been investigating more than 120 threats against Jewish organizations in three dozen states since Jan. 9 and a rash of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries.

On Friday, Missouri resident Juan Thompson was arrested on a cyberstalking charge and accused of making at least eight of the threats nationwide, including one to the ADL. Authorities said Thompson was trying to harass and frame his ex-girlfriend by pinning the threats on her.

AP and JTA contributed background to this report