South Florida

With Israeli teen arrested in JCC bomb threats, Florida leaders look for answers

A security guard stands outside the entrance to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School after people were evacuated because of a bomb threat on Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie. Jewish centers and schools across the nation are coping with another wave of bomb threats as officials in Philadelphia begin raising money to repair and restore hundreds of vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery.
A security guard stands outside the entrance to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School after people were evacuated because of a bomb threat on Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie. Jewish centers and schools across the nation are coping with another wave of bomb threats as officials in Philadelphia begin raising money to repair and restore hundreds of vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery. AP

Florida Jewish leaders are seeking more details about Thursday’s arrest by Israeli police of a suspect in bomb threats of Jewish centers across the world. The suspect is an Israeli Jewish man who is 19, according to The Associated Press.

When asked by the Miami Herald if the suspect is the suspect in several South Florida bomb threats, national FBI spokeswoman Samantha Shero said in a statement that the FBI can’t confirm individual incidents.

“Early this morning in Israel, the FBI and Israeli National Police worked jointly to locate and arrest the individual suspected for threats to Jewish organizations across the United States and in other parts of the world,” she said Thursday. “The FBI commends the great work of the Israeli National Police in this investigation. Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI, and we will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship.”

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Herald in an email that the man is the “main suspect behind the bomb threats” at Jewish Community Centers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a Delta Airlines flight in February 2015 at JFK airport. The suspect, who lives in Ashkelon, has an American and Israeli passport.

Leaders of Jewish organizations in South Florida, awaiting official word on whether the suspect was linked to threats faced by their institutions, said they will remain vigilant about security.

Michael Balaban, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County, said in a statement that he was glad a suspect was in custody.

“Based on the limited information provided, we still don’t know whether this is the only perpetrator,” he said in a statement to the Herald. “We are grateful to law enforcement for their efforts and at this time await further detail. We urge all institutions to remain vigilant in the wake of this high-profile case and international media coverage.”

In a statement to members of the Miami Beach JCC, CEO Paul Frishman said, “We are hopeful that this suspect is found to be the one responsible for all of the JCC threats including the ones here at our own facility.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, was seeking information related to whether the suspect was linked to Florida bomb threats.

“We spoke to the FBI earlier today,” he said in a statement Thursday morning. “They are working with the Israeli authorities who have arrested someone in Israel they believe is responsible for at least some of the recent threats against Jewish community centers here in the U.S. As the investigation continues, I have asked the FBI to ensure that this is the same individual responsible for the recent threats made to centers in Florida.”

Nelson and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote a letter earlier in March to federal officials seeking swift action on the threats.

The national Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, issued a statement saying that the Jewish community is relieved about the arrest but said it didn’t cover all anti-Semitic incidents that occurred this year.

“No arrests have been made in the three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers,” he said.

The ADL has tracked 166 bomb threats to Jewish institutions in 38 states and three Canadian provinces since January. In South Florida the threats occurred at the David Posnack school — on the same campus as a JCC — the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center in Kendall and the Miami Beach JCC.

The threats prompted evacuations of children and adults and spread fear among the Jewish community and the broader community since non-Jews also attend programs at JCCs. Jewish institutions increased their security by adding more cameras, increasing training for staff and closely coordinating with local law enforcement departments.

The AP reported that Rosenfeld described the suspect as a hacker but said his motives were still unclear. Israeli media identified him as an American-Israeli dual citizen.

“He’s the guy who was behind the JCC threats,” Rosenfeld told the AP, referring to the anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the U.S. since January.

The suspect placed threats to the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. His attorney, Galit Besh, told CNN that the suspect had behavioral issues and an inoperable brain tumor diagnosed when he was 14.

Rosenfeld told the AP that the man used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls. Police searched his house Thursday morning and discovered antennas and satellite equipment.

“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.

The bomb threats and attacks on Jewish communities have become an intense political issue during Donald Trump’s first several weeks in office.

The threats became a political issue for President Donald Trump’s administration because nationally some Jewish leaders nationally said Trump was too slow to denounce the anti-Semitic incidents. The first bomb threat occurred on Jan. 5 — Trump denounced them on Feb. 21. Trump condemned the attacks during his speech to a joint session of Congress Feb. 28.

“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.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called on Trump to do more.

“An undeniable increase in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other hatreds have emerged, be it in our own neighborhoods or online, and I am still convinced that not enough has been said or done to combat it from the president directly or his White House,” she said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, who co-chars a bipartisan task force combating anti-Semitism, said in a statement that anti-Semitism remains at “an alarmingly high level” and called for a more coordinated approach among federal agencies.

The fact that the suspect is Jewish was troubling for leaders of Jewish centers that are open to people of all faiths, the JCC Association of North America said in a statement:

“We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish Community Centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all — is reportedly Jewish.”

A bomb threat at the New World Tower, home of the Israeli consulate in Miami, caused an evacuation and bomb sweep on the morning of Thursday, February 16, 2017. Officials gave the all-clear around 1:40 p.m.

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