Last issue (March 20), I wrote about the waves of bomb threats that have plagued Jewish institutions – mostly Jewish community centres, but also Jewish schools and offices of Jewish organizations – over the past three months. I wrote that the bomb threats, all of which turned out to be hoaxes, were “anti-Semitic in their intent.”
Then, on March 23 – the day before this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin went to press – there was a shocking development in the case. Police in Israel – working in co-operation with law enforcement officials in several countries, including the United States and Canada – arrested a suspect they had determined was responsible for the threats: a Jewish, 19-year-old dual Israeli-U.S. citizen who lives in Ashkelon in southern Israel.
We have not yet heard from the suspect about his motives. Early reports in the Israeli media said he was not answering questions or co-operating in any way with police investigators. At his first court hearing, his lawyer said that he has a non-malignant brain tumour that leads to behavioural issues. The Israel Defense Forces, apparently, had previously found him to be unfit for military service.
The suspect, evidently, was highly sophisticated in his use of computer equipment and software with which he perpetrated the bomb threat hoaxes while disguising his identity and whereabouts. But he did make a mistake while making one of the bomb threats and did not hide his IP (Internet protocol) address, which enabled authorities to trace the threat to him. This triggered a lengthy investigation, ultimately leading to his arrest.
The entire Jewish world, to be sure, was relieved that a suspect was caught. Hopefully, these waves of bomb threat hoaxes – there have been nearly 150 since January – will now stop. But the fact that the suspect in this case is Jewish does not change the anti-Semitic intent behind the crimes.
As Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League – an organization in the United States that combats anti-Semitism – said in a statement after the suspect’s arrest, “While the details of this crime remain unclear, the impact of this individual’s actions is crystal clear: These were acts of anti-Semitism. These threats targeting Jewish institutions were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.”
It is a sad fact of recent history – here, in the U.S., Europe and so many other places – that we have been witnessing increased incidents of anti-Semitism. From Jewish reporters receiving thousands of anti-Semitic tweets after writing critically about the president of the United States, to graffiti incidents last November in Ottawa, to recent Jewish cemetery desecrations in the U.S., to an imam at a mosque in Montreal referring to Jews as “human demons” and “the most evil of mankind,” the stories come in almost daily.
So, when someone seeks to instil fear in specifically Jewish communities, large and small, by making bomb threats, the acts are most certainly acts of anti-Semitism – even if the person making the threats is Jewish.
The revelation that the suspect in so many bomb threat hoaxes against Jewish institutions – against Jewish communities – is himself Jewish is very sad and very troubling. After the arrest, the Forward posted an article by Hinda Mandell, a professor in Rochester, New York, whose daughter attends a preschool in the Rochester JCC that received two bomb threats (the Jewish cemetery in Rochester was also recently desecrated).
Mandell wrote that she was heartbroken that the suspect was Jewish. “From an emotional perspective, I feel like I’ve just been sucker punched … My gut reaction upon reading the news alert about today’s arrest was straight out of Jewish central casting, a version of ‘What will the goyim think of us now?’”
Last issue, I said that an unintended consequence of the bomb threats and other anti-Semitic acts was that communities were coming together in solidarity. By the end of her article, Mandell reached the same conclusion.
“So what will the goyim think? They’ll think we’re all in this together. We are connected in unexpected ways that are both painful and powerful.”