NEW YORK – Jewish institutions in the US should “think security at all times,” CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, addressing the recent wave of antisemitic incidents in the United States.
Since the beginning of the year, over 100 bomb threats have been called in to Jewish institutions including community centers, schools as well as two of ADL’s offices across some 30 states.
In addition, two Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in the past week in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and on Wednesday morning a swastika was found spray painted on the front step of a home in the Somerton section of Philadelphia.
“American Jews have achieved in an extraordinary way here; the economic heights we’ve reached, the social capital we have accumulated, the political achievements, it’s really quite remarkable,” Greenblatt acknowledged. “And at the same time what we know from the history of the Jewish people is that we need to remember that we are still a minority and we need to remember that we are still vulnerable.”
“We need to be vigilant every step of the way and not take our eye off the ball,” he added.
The ADL has been measuring antisemitic attitudes in the United States since the 1960s, and while generally the numbers have gone down since then, the organization has become well accustomed to threats over the years. Over the past week two of its offices in New York and San Francisco received bomb calls as well.
“We are office environments, filled with professionals who are in the business, on the front-line of fighting antisemitism, dealing with bigots and racists and we unfortunately see our fair share of threats,” Greenblatt told the Post.
“So while it’s difficult when your building gets evacuated, I wouldn’t even compare it to what it’s like to be a mother whose pre-school aged child is rushed out of the building, or to a daughter or a son whose elderly parent is wheeled out of their care program.”
Greenblatt believes those targeting the ADL are trying to send a message of intimidation to the whole community.
“We have been in the crosshairs of the KKK, of the neo-nazis, of the alt-right for quite some time,” he said. “I am not daunted, my staff is not deterred, my board is not distracted, my amazing courageous volunteers are by no means dissuaded and we won’t be by these threats.”
“These are cowards, these are pathetic people who mask their voice and hide behind the Internet and don’t even have the courage to show up,” he went on. “It’s not hard to tip over headstones in the middle of the night. It’s not difficult to threaten pre-school children.”
Over the past months and in general, the ADL has been working with law enforcement on security measures for Jewish institutions across the country.
This has also been the main work of the Secure Community Network since it was launched in 2004. The organization seeks to be a central address serving the American Jewish community concerning matters of communal safety, security, and all-hazards preparedness and response. It works in tight collaboration with federal agencies including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in providing support and security training for Jewish organizations’ staff.
National Director of SCN Paul Goldenberg, who has several decades of background in law enforcement, said that the last few months have been “somewhat of an enigma” for him.
“The current climate and threat environment, even for us who have spent years in the business, is alarming and the incoming data in recent month is troubling,” he said.
In the past month SCN representatives have been on the ground of some of the affected communities. Earlier this week they also held a virtual training session with Jewish organizations’ staff including many JCC workers.
“When communities are trained to engage, to understand that if they see something they have to say something, to know how to behave and respond if there is an attack on their facilities, that makes not only for a safer facility, a more empowered people but also good partners multiply,” Goldenberg said. “Every bit of training becomes more precious today than ever.”
According to him, the goal of those making the threats is often “not just to cause loss of life but more dangerously to try to wear us down along with our spirit, our sense of endurance.”
“We cannot voluntarily allow for what these offenders themselves could never have achieved on their own and that’s by giving up our values as a community, our way of life,” he said. “Communities that address the psychological impact of these hate crimes and terrorist threats no doubt have a greater ability to resist manipulation.”
When asked whether he believes antisemitism is more widespread in the US than it is perceived to be, Goldenberg told the Post that while the Jewish community has dealt with vandalism, intimidation and assault for years, it is very much a part of the fabric of life in the United States.
“The relationship with American law enforcement is extremely mature,” he added. “In many of the the communities across Europe we see armed paratroopers in front of Jewish schools, museums and Jewish centers. I don’t believe that we will ever get to that point here.”
In recent days many Jewish groups including ADL have called on the US administration to make sure the perpetrators of the bomb threats and vandalism are brought to justice, while acknowledging that President Trump’s rhetoric since the first days of his campaign may have played its role in the recent phenomenon.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said it is working closely with Jewish communities to “advise and support on protective measures they can put in place to help keep people in their community safe.”
“Words have consequences and the lack of words has consequences too,” ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt told the Post. We welcome the President’s strong statement at the start of his first address to congress, but unfortunately, it took a long time for these comments to be made in a clear manner.”
“Now they need to be done in a consistent approach because the antisemites have rushed to fill the vacuum that was created when we didn’t have more immediate denunciations of David Duke or quicker clarifications when antisemitic images were tweeted out during the campaign,” he continued. “I do think it is incumbent upon our elected officials and our political leadership, and all public figures to speak out in a clear and consistent voice against antisemitism.”
Greenblatt said he hopes the administration will now pivot from words to action.
To facilitate this, the ADL has published this week its suggestion for a plan of action the president should adopt in response to the situation including investigating the crimes, convening a task force against hate, and countering cyber hate problems.
“There is considerable concern but I think the things that is kind of neat about the Jewish community is how tough they are,” he said. “There is a real strength and it’s incredibly inspiring to me. I talked to many people – everyone is rolling up their sleeves.”
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