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The Jewish Center Threats May Have Been Hoaxes, But Anti-Semitism Isn’t


Aesop’s timeless fable of the boy who cried wolf actually has two subtly different endings. In one, after twice fooling the villagers, the shepherd boy shouts to no avail as an actual wolf consumes the sheep under his watch. In the second, darker version, the boy himself is eaten.

Unfortunately, this fable has resonated recently, as the FBI and Israeli police last week announced the arrest of a suspect in the recent string of bomb threats leveled against Jewish institutions across the United States and abroad: an American-Israeli teenager.

The boy, whose identity remains cloaked by an Israeli court’s gag order, reportedly used sophisticated electronic means to level more than 150 threats against Jewish community centers, schools, and synagogues, including technology that concealed his IP address, software that altered his voice, digital currency like Bitcoin that masked his identity, and a WiFi antenna that disguised his location.

Fear and Self-Loathing in Israel

Why would an Israeli Jew so brazenly seek to intimidate members of his own community? Israeli media has speculated that the boy suffers from a brain tumor that has affected his behavior; earlier this week, the boy’s father publicly apologized “to all the Jews in America,” blaming his son’s tumor. A day earlier, his mother had apologized, claiming her son was autistic.

Others suspect he was exacting revenge for the Israeli Army’s rejecting him as unfit for service; and that he sought to prove his technical proficiency. (Separately, a left-wing American journalist has also been arrested for placing copycat bomb calls; he now claims he was framed by racist cops in a “modern-day lynching.”)

Here in Israel, the revelation brought an immediate mix of relief, revulsion, and shame. We had vicariously shuddered as friends in San Diego, Atlanta, South Florida, and elsewhere were displaced from various Jewish institutions by these frightening, credible threats. Those of us who’d grown up in the United States found it especially disturbing that the anti-Semitic disease lately ravaging Europe had seemingly infected the land of the free.

It therefore came as a great relief to learn of the hoax and to hear how swiftly and cleverly the U.S. Justice Department and Israeli authorities had collaborated to nab the culprit. But the boy’s arrest also sparked a deep embarrassment, an unshakeable feeling that the Jewish community can sometimes be its own worst enemy.

The Dangers Of Crying Anti-Semitism at a Hoax

We had (justifiably) raised the alarm among all communal organs in the United States. The Israeli Knesset even convened an “urgent” session on the threats. But in retrospect, we’d come to resemble the Aesopian boy, crying out over a pretend wolf and thus desensitizing others to the presence of actual wolves. Sure enough, late last week anti-Semitic fliers surfaced near a JCC in Scottsdale, Arizona accusing Jews of faking anti-Semitic attacks.

This shame was compounded, here in Israel, by the fact that the perpetrator dwelt among us, and, in the United States, by the regrettable behavior of some who’d seized on the threats in order to score points against President Trump. Of course, the wolf here wasn’t entirely contrived. Aspects of the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks—including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia—were very real indeed. As I visited my own grandparents’ gravesite in New York earlier this month, I couldn’t help, for the first time in my adult life, feeling a certain vulnerability on U.S. soil.

Indeed, it’s likely that the bomb-scare campaign inspired the cemetery attacks, or at least unlocked a door that had been tightly shut on expressions of anti-Semitic sentiment in the United States Once actual bigots sensed the erosion of the taboo against attacking Jews, their inhibitions against overt hate crimes started to dissipate.

So, to arrest this disturbing development, the Trump administration must continue to speak out against the world’s oldest hatred. In this regard, it’s encouraging to see the stalwart rhetoric and unapologetic action by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who has courageously targeted the absurd anti-Israel bias of the international body and its member states.

This Hoax Doesn’t Make Other Anti-Semitism Fake

Still, more remains to be done domestically. During the campaign, the Trump camp admirably promised to scrutinize increasingly virulent anti-Semitic activism on American college campuses, but the president has yet to announce further steps since taking office. The administration must also confront Jew hatred emanating from the alt-right and other corners traditionally congenial to anti-Semitism.

President Trump’s initial response to the bomb threats didn’t exactly assuage concerns: he vented his spleen at a Jewish newspaper journalist who’d respectfully inquired about the subject, and reportedly told the Washington Post “sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people — or to make others — look bad” – a false-flag comment that many interpreted, with reason, as a suggestion that Jews themselves were behind the threats.

In retrospect, on the one hand, Trump’s comment is understandable, assuming he knew at the time about the Israeli boy’s involvement; on the other hand, dropping such hints would only have compromised the investigation and undermined the confidence of the Jewish community. However, the president’s full-throated denunciation of anti-Semitism during his first address to a joint session of Congress was a strong start.

At the same time, we in the Jewish community both in Israel and in the United States must continue to condemn those within our own ranks who shamefully exploit our insecurities for their personal, professional, or political ends while, of course, remaining vigilant against genuine threats to Jews across the world. The wolf has already eaten its sheep. Collectively, let’s make sure we don’t lose the boy, too.