Over the past few months, Americans from across the country have been terrorized by bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and other religious institutions. For those unfamiliar with them, JCCs are important institutions in Jewish communities, providing childcare, education, arts, sports, and spurring quite a bit of civic engagement in their neighborhoods.
For parents, it matters little who is behind the threats. Still, assumptions about these events quickly trumped vigilance for political reasons. And that’s a problem.
For many Democrats, the working theory was that “Trump-era” Republicans had been freed to act out on their hate. Fearmongering about the coming Nazi age and a great anti-Muslim crime wave that wasn’t is now embedded in mainstream political discourse. In a world where everything liberals dislike is a form of bigotry, one can’t admit that oftentimes hate crimes are nothing more than hoaxes perpetrated by nuts or people looking to bring attention to their cause.
Anyway, in the midst of these threats, Donald Trump held a meeting with a bunch of attorneys general, and Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro claimed the president, after calling the threats “reprehensible,” said: “And you’ve got to be careful; it could be the reverse. Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people – or to make others – look bad.” The president went on to refer to the threats as “horrible and painful,” and stemming from “hate and evil,” but because he mentioned that hate crimes might be perpetrated by people you don’t expect, the Left’s moral rage was fed once again.
The important thing about the JCC bomb threats is that we as a society came together to jump to conclusions and malign fellow Americans.
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) March 23, 2017
So, many on the Left blamed Trump’s rhetoric for feeding anti-Semitism. The Democratic National Committee accused the president of showing “a clear pattern” of anti-Semitism. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and self-appointed spokesperson for all American Jews, demanded the president explain himself.
The Daily Beast, like most outlets, ran an article framing this comment as some kind Infowars-like conspiracy mongering. A slew of left-wing pundits attacked. “Trump echoes David Duke, reportedly suggests Jews are behind threats to Jewish schools,” reads a characteristically idiotic headline from ThinkProgress. The Vox explainer on the matter is all about white supremacists and anti-Muslim sentiment—because Vox is always trying to conflate the two things.
As it turns out, one of the suspects in the JCC threats was Juan Thompson, a one-time progressive writer for the anti-Israel site The Intercept (fired for fabrications, not his ugly views). The main suspect now appears to be a 19-year-old U.S.-Israeli dual citizen, who was arrested by police Thursday. The Israeli police say the suspect, who is also alleged to have made similar threats to JCCs in New Zealand and Australia, was camouflaging the origin of his calls with advanced technology. His father is also reportedly being investigated. Who knows what perverted reasons these people had. What we do know is that it’s not the person or people Democrats were expecting.
Will those who accused Trump of abetting anti-Semitism offer a mea culpa? After all, it was always more probable that the threats were the work of a few people rather than some Jew-hating cabal. These rare events are not reflective of prevailing American attitudes. Any honest person knows this. Moreover, some of the same people who flippantly accuse GOPers of anti-Semitism diminish the danger that Jews face from far more threatening forces.
And no, being honest about the situation isn’t “downplaying” anti-Semitism, as many like to claim. Jew hatred is genuine, of course, found both on the fringe Right and Left in America. As a Jew, I’ve experienced plenty of nasty rhetoric this past year, a situation that is, no doubt, exacerbated by social media and the manipulation of those platforms.
Those who vandalize cemeteries and draw swastikas on walls are still out there. Jews have long been the leading victims of religious hate crimes in America. Also, less secretive but far more serious anti-Semites openly advocate anti-Jewish ideology on college campuses across the United States. (Europe has seen rising problem with anti-Semitism, and the entire Islamic world is enveloped by it.) Yet, in a nation of 350 million, these numbers are, in context, small. The idea the United States is a place especially unsafe for Jews (or any other religious minority, for that matter) is a fiction. By any measurable standard, Americans are far more tolerant than the champions of identity politics would have you believe.
It’s important to be vigilant about hate. It’s also important not to exaggerate the problem for political gain.