NEW YORK — Jewish groups had pointed to scores of bomb threats against their communities as the most dramatic example of what they considered a surge in anti-Semitism. Some blamed a far-right emboldened by President Donald Trump. Now, that picture has been complicated by the arrest of an Israeli Jewish hacker who authorities say is responsible for the harassment.
Israeli police said the motive behind the threats was unclear. An attorney for the 19-year-old man, who was arrested Thursday, said her client had a “very serious medical condition” that might have affected his behavior. Earlier this month, U.S. law enforcement had arrested a former journalist in St. Louis, Juan Thompson, on charges he threatened Jewish organizations as part of a bizarre campaign to harass his former girlfriend. But Israeli police say the Jewish teen is the primary suspect in the more than 150 bomb threats in North America since early January.
Previously, Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism and monitors extremism, had partly blamed Trump for creating an atmosphere that fueled the bomb threats and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, among other recent harassment. “His well-documented reluctance to address rising anti-Semitism helped to create an environment in which extremists felt emboldened,” Greenblatt wrote last month.
On Feb. 28, in a meeting with state attorneys general, Trump had suggested the phoned-in bomb threats may have been designed to make “others look bad,” according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. The remark raised concerns that Trump was downplaying bigotry. That same night, Trump opened his address to Congress with a strong condemnation of the threats and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, which occurred in St. Louis, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
In a phone interview Thursday from Washington, where Greenblatt was discussing anti-Semitism with members of Congress, he said, “It’s not the identity of the culprit that’s the issue,” but the outcome of threats themselves, which terrified Jews and disrupted Jewish life.
He said anti-Semitism remained a serious concern, pointing to other recent incidents around the country. Swastikas were drawn throughout a New York City subway car with messages such as “Jews belong in the oven.” In South Carolina, a white supremacist with felony convictions was charged with plotting an attack on a synagogue that officials said was inspired by the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. A Seattle synagogue was vandalized with a spray-painted message, “The Holocaust is fake history.”