Threats against Jews draw outrage
Rep. Wasserman Schultz angered over bomb hoaxes
Days ago, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, invited two rabbis, a law enforcement official and a mother to join her in speaking out against a rising tide of anti-Semitism in South Florida and across the nation.
As they gathered Monday morning, the issue became more personal and dramatic: the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie, where Wasserman Schultz’s own children went to preschool years ago, was among the latest group of JCCs across the country subjected to a bomb threat.
“I’m incredibly angry. But I’m here today to channel my anger so that we can make sure that first and foremost we find the bastards, and that we make sure that we don’t rest and there is nowhere that they think they can hide that we won’t hunt them down and find them,” said Wasser-
man Schultz, whois the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Florida.
She later repeated the denunciation of “these bastards who are terrorizing people all across the country.”
Monday’s threat to the Posnack JCC is the fifth in recent weeks in South Florida alone, following bomb threats that forced evacuations of JCCs in Kendall, Miami Beach, Pinecrest and Palm Beach Gardens.
All were hoaxes, including the one Monday in Davie. Sgt. Mark Leone, of the Davie Police Department, said the threat came in just before before 9:30 a.m. At 11:22 a.m., the Posnack Center said on Twitter that “we have received the all clear to go back in the building.”
The JCC Association of North America said in a statement that bomb threats were called in Monday to schools and/or JCCs in a total of 11 states. The total number of incidents is now more than 70, the association said, including previous waves of bomb threats Jan. 9, Jan. 18, Jan. 31 and Feb. 20.
Over the weekend, swastikas were scratched into cars in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Miami Beach. About two weeks ago, a swastika was spraypainted on a car in a predominately Jewish neighborhood west of Boca Raton.
“What these domestic terrorists are trying to do is undermine the confidence of the Jewish community” in important institutions in the community such as JCCs and scare people away,” Wasserman Schultz said .“They’re trying to force them, intimidate them into making the decision to take the path of least resistance, to take the easier, less challenging path by undermining their belief that these institutions are safe.”
Wasserman Schultz said President Donald Trump needs to do more to condemn anti-Semitism.
He spoke about it a week ago, after his daughter, Ivanka Trump, a convert to Judaism, tweeted on Feb. 20 that “America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC.”
The day after, while visiting the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the president said the rise in anti-Semitic incidents “are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that stillmust be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
On two previous occasions, the president didn’t address reporters’ questions on the topic.
The congresswoman, a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said the rise in public anti-Semitism has happened along with the rise of Trump in the presidential campaign and since he’s been in the White House.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the incidence of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated across the country coincide with the permissiveness of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, of someof the actions that they took that perpetuated antiSemitism and the fact that President Trump, neither as a candidate or until last week, was willing to acknowledge, beat back, criticize, call out anti-Semitism,” she said.
She suggested that his campaign and presidency give license to people who previously felt constrained from being “openly anti-Semitic and communicate anti-Semitically but to take it to the next level where they are actually going after and terrorizing communities. I don’t know what else to attribute it to.”
Among the examples she cited were Trump’s campaign season tweet containing a picture of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accompanied by what looked like a Star of David containing the words “Most corrupt candidate ever!” The background was a pile of $100 bills. Last month, the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day didn’t mention antiSemitism or the deaths of six million Jews.
Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, said Democratic critics are constantly looking for reasons to find fault with the president and Trump shouldn’t pay any attention to anything Wasserman Schultz wants him to say.
“The Jewish liberals, if Donald Trump said the sky was blue, they would call him a racist and an antiSemite and a homophobe,” Dinerstein said. “If I were Donald Trump I wouldn’t spend one second trying to make these people happy by saying what they said you’re not saying strongly enough.”
Howard Needleman, senior rabbi of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation, said anti-Semitism has been present for thousands of years. He said it often gets worse in times of trouble or economic crisis. “This seems like an aberration because we’re at a time of prosperity in our nation. Yet hate crimes rise again,” he said. “We don’t know the answers as to why things are occurring.”
Wasserman Schultz said people in South Florida, with its large Jewish population, shouldn’t be blind to what goes on elsewhere. “I can’t tell you the number of times that I have traveled the country that I have made the decision not to wear the Star of David based on where Iwas going. Andthat’s because there are some places in the country and in the world where it is not safe to expose yourself to the anti-Semitism and hate that we all experience at some time, unfortunately, throughout our lives.”
Rabbi Jonathan Berkun of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center said he hadn’t personally felt unsafe in the United States until last spring, when a man plotted to blow up his synagogue. “Thanks to God, to the FBI, to the Aventura Police Department, he was caught before he could go through with it,” Berkun said.
“This recent wave of antiSemitism cannot be allowed to become a new normal,” he said. “What we cannot do is return to those days when hatred, bigotry, ignorance and racism ran free and unchecked. We are standing here today because we refuse to allow America to become a place of fear.”
Col. Steve Kinsey of the Broward Sheriff ’s Office said the threats are serious. “They are horrific threats that put people in fear,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
Among the political reactions:
• More than 150 Democratic and Republican members of Congress wrote to the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security and the FBI director last week urging swift action to address the nationwide series of bomb threats. The letter was signed by eight of the nine members of Congress from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
• U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County Republican, met Wednesday with leaders of the JCC in Kendall, which was subjected to one of the earlier hoax bomb threats.
• U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Palm Beach County Democrat, said she met with Florida leaders of the Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday about the rise in antiSemitic incidents and said she’s planning to convene leaders from synagogues and JCCs in her district, and possibly a broader community meeting.
• Wasserman Schultz said Monday she would push in Congress for an expansion of programs that fund security at religious institutions.
• Wasserman Schultz said she would convene a large gathering of rabbis, Jewish civic leaders and law enforcement officials from Broward and Miami-Dade counties on Friday to discuss howto improve security and combat anti-Semitism.
• Four Democratic and four Republican members of Congress announced Monday they were reconvening the Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting AntiSemitism.
“We continue to witness anti-Semitism that is both dangerous and complex,” said a statement from the four co-chairmen, who include U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-Dade County Republican. “In light of recent events, it is more important than ever that Democrats and Republicans work together to root out hatred and racism in all its ugly forms.”