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Anti-Semitism Alarms: More Bomb Threats, Jewish Cemetery Vandalized

Rabbi Hershey Novack of the Chabad center walks through Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City on Feb. 21, 2017, where almost 200 gravestones were vandalized. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

WASHINGTON — Jewish community centers received a new wave of phoned-in bomb threats Sunday and a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was desecrated over the weekend, acts that Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) warned “are not only criminal but fan the flames of extremism that tears apart societies.”

The JCC Association of North America said 11 Jewish community centers received threats over the weekend, on the heels of 68 bomb-threat calls to 53 centers in 26 states and one Canadian province in January. No devices have been found at any of the centers.

“While we are relieved that all such threats have proven to be hoaxes and that not a single person was harmed, we are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life. Local JCCs serve not just the Jewish community, but the entire community,” said David Posner, director of strategic performance at the JCC Association. “Participants from all different backgrounds come to their local JCCs for activities, Jewish cultural and religious programming, and opportunities to come together as a community.”

Posner said the group is working with the FBI as authorities investigate the threats.

JTA obtained a recording of one of the calls made during an earlier wave of threats on Jan. 18, potentially using technology to alter the caller’s voice: “It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel, surrounded by a bag (inaudible). In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to [sic] blown off from the shrapnel. There’s a lot of shrapnel. There’s going to be a bloodbath that’s going to take place in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.”

In University City, a St. Louis suburb, about 200 headstones were toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which dates back to 1893. Police were reviewing surveillance footage in an effort to identify suspects.

St. Louis congressman Wm. “Lacy” Clay (D-Mo.) said “this appalling and shameful act of anti-Semitic hatred, committed on holy ground, must be condemned by all persons of faith and by all who respect the rule of law.”

In prepared remarks while visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. on Tuesday, President Trump said his tour of the exhibits “was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said.

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, slammed Trump’s statement as “a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”

“Make no mistake: The anti-Semitism coming out of this administration is the worst we have ever seen from any administration,” Goldstein added. “The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial.”

Trump was asked at two press conferences last week about what he’ll do to fight the new wave of anti-Semitic incidents, with the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League afterward calling his responses — which included touting his electoral margin and criticizing an Orthodox Jewish reporter for asking “not a simple question, not a fair question” — “worrisome,” “puzzling” and “mind-boggling.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer lamented at Tuesday’s daily briefing that “no matter how many times he talks about this, that it’s never good enough.”

“Today, I think, was an unbelievably forceful comment by the president as far as his denunciation of the actions that are currently targeted towards Jewish community centers. But I think that he’s been very clear previous to this, that he wants to be someone that brings this country together and not divide people, especially in those areas,” Spicer told reporters.

Spicer said he saw Goldstein’s statement. “I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area and I think that hopefully, as time continues to go by, they recognize his commitment to civil rights, to voting rights, to equality for all Americans,” the press secretary said.

Goldstein said positive action from the White House would entail firing chief strategist Steve Bannon, giving a “major address on anti-Semitism to the far right,” and establishing an independent commission with members appointed by Congress to look at anti-Semitism “apart from the president’s influence,” he told CNN.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to establish a special task force “with the assignment of identifying and capturing the culprit or culprits who seek to terrorize American Jewry through their threats.”

“The multi-pronged threats of anti-Semitism today demand concerted action. We look to President Trump to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of anti-Semitism and hate in America head-on in a speech at a time and place of his choosing,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, dean and founder and associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

“American Jewry is being targeted by extremists from multiple sources: On our nation’s campuses, where incessant anti-Israel campaigns have created a climate of intimidation; in New York, home to the world’s largest Jewish community, which reports a spike in anti-Semitic incidents, and just this week, 100 headstones in a Jewish Cemetery in Missouri were overturned,” Hier, who delivered a prayer at the Inauguration, and Cooper said.

“Further, social media is being deployed 24/7 by extremists to target and demonize individual Jews, entire communities, our faith and values,” the rabbis added. “We need leadership from the top to effectively combat the hate.”

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) put out a call on his Facebook page for volunteers to come to the cemetery at 3 p.m. today to help clean up for one hour.

“One measure of a community’s strength is what we do in moments like this. We can choose to cower, or we can choose productive action and shared service,” Greitens said. “We can turn a vile act into a moment for resolve and a demonstration of our state’s faith.”

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be in St. Louis today for a factory tour and speech. As of late Tuesday, the White House said his plane is scheduled to depart the city at 3:10 p.m.