The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it will heighten assistance to Jewish Community Centers, which have faced a series of bomb threats in Florida and other states.
“In light of the nature of the threats to Jewish Community Centers, I have directed DHS to heighten our outreach and support to enhance public safety,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday night in a statement. “The right to worship and commune within and across faiths is fundamental to the American experience and our way of life. DHS will continue to support communities across the country to preserve these fundamental freedoms.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a national organization that combats anti-Semitism, has tallied 122 bomb threats to Jewish institutions since the beginning of 2017 through March 1. On Monday, the ADL said 20 threats occurred in a dozen states — the fifth time this year that multiple Jewish institutions have received bomb scares on a single day.
Although the threats were hoaxes, it has heightened fears at Jewish institutions — including community centers that are open to all regardless of their faith — nationwide. The rash of bomb threats were reportedly made through the help of technology that distorts the callers’ voices and phone numbers. The U.S. Justice Department and FBI are investigating.
On Wednesday, DHS’ national protection and programs directorate spoke with the executive directors of the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, who represents more than 150 community-based Jewish federations around the United States.
Kelly said the federal government can assist Jewish institutions with vulnerability assessments and assistance to connect organizations with active shooter preparedness and bombing prevention training and guidance.
Kelly said that over the past 18 months, Homeland Security has held active shooter preparedness workshops with JCCs in a few cities including in Miami-Dade and has more sessions planned in Columbus, Wilmington, N.C. and Philadelphia. The department has also hosted contingency planning and response exercises with members of the Jewish community.
While some Jewish leaders have criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the anti-Semitic attacks as sluggish, Jewish community leaders working with federal law enforcement agencies praised the response by those agencies without naming Trump.
The Security Community Network, an initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has worked effectively with federal agencies regardless of the administration in office for 14 years, said Michael Siegal, who chairs the network.
“We have seen no easing of commitment in the current administration,” Siegal said on a national conference call with reporters Thursday morning. “There is no lack of cooperation among individuals at the highest levels of of the security community or lack of concern and commitment toward our communities safety.”
Paul Goldenberg, network national director, called Homeland Security’s announcement “an extraordinary measure.” Goldenberg also announced that the network has formed a new National Security Advisory Council whose members will include officials from Homeland Security.
Goldenberg said that while the calls have been difficult to investigate, he said he is confident based on the resources invested by law enforcement that the perpetrators will be caught.
On many of the calls, the person answering the telephone at the Jewish institution was able to engage in a dialogue with the caller.
“The language and the verbiage used by this individual or individuals has been the same and on point,” he said.
The first wave of bomb threats on Jewish institutions occurred Jan. 5.
Trump first denounced the anti-Semitic attacks on Feb. 21 during a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” the president said.
Some Jewish leaders have said Trump waited too long to denounce the bomb scares and anti-Semitic attacks. Pressure had been mounting for Trump to speak out particularly following his administration’s decision to release a statement in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted any reference to Jews.
On Tuesday night in a joint session to Congress, Trump opened his speech by addressing high-profile hate crimes that occurred during his first month in office.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its ugly forms,” Trump said.