For both Jews and non-Jews, Jewish community centers are community hubs. They host art classes and sports programs for children and adults with aims to create a unified community around both secular and religious interests. JCCs are inclusive, peaceful and huge assets to any community they provide for. But recent waves of anti-Semitism have targeted Jewish community centers specifically. According to CNN, bomb threats have been issued to over 100 JCCs across 33 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in recent months.
The threats, too, have come in waves: 15 Jewish community centers and schools received bomb threats on January 9, and ensuing series of threats occurred on January 18th, January 31st, and February 20th. On this past Monday, February 27th, the threat count rose to 100 when another 31 threats were called in to 23 JCCs and schools.
Despite his consistent validation of the fear-based hate currently taking over our country, President Donald Trump chose to address the issue in his speech to Congress on Tuesday: "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 of its very ugly forms."
This seems more than a little ironic, as the Trump administration thrives on pro-white, pro-Christian fearmongering at the direct cost of the safety of religious minorities. The New York Times article "The Rage of White, Christian America," published this November, explains that 74% of white evangelical protestants believe things have changed for the worse since the 1950s (when Jim Crow was legal and America was a majority white, Christian nation). 81% of white evangelical protestants voted for Trump. In the case of both retrograde ideals and voter turnout, the percentages represented by angry white Christians are far larger than those represented by any other demographic — even those of Latinx, black, and millennial voters.
The incidents Trump referred to in the Joint Address — the vandalism of Jewish headstones in cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis and the shooting of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani—are part of a much more threatening pattern of hate against religious and ethnic minorities. Trump's campaign success and eventual election is thanks in large part to rhetoric that explicitly incentivizes it.
BBC's report on the February 22nd Kansas shooting of Mr. Kuchibhotla and Madasani, both 32-year-old Indian men, details that the assailant shouted "Get out of my country!" as he fired at them. Kuchibhotla died as a result of his injuries. Also according to BBC, Indian students in Hyderabad, a major IT hub in southern India, link Kuchibhotla's murder to support for a new U.S. bill designed to limit the entry of highly skilled workers into the country. Almost 70% of these work visas go to Indians, a large portion of whom are IT professionals. Like Trump's travel ban, the bill is a poorly-veiled attempt to target non-white, non-Christian immigrants.
In response to the vandalism of between 75 and 100 tombstones in Philadelphia's Mt. Carmel cemetery, Det. Jim Reynolds of the police department's Northeast Detectives Division told CNN that although cemeteries are located on all four corners of the intersection at Mt. Carmel, no vandalism occurred at the three Christian cemeteries. "As far as we know it's limited to the Jewish cemetery."
Law enforcement officials hypothesize that many of the recent threats issued to Jewish community centers originated overseas. CNN writes
, "... on a deeper level, the threats have functioned like terrorism, shattering the idea of safety." It's true: Josie Porter, from Syosset, N.Y. told the news source that she and her husband, along with a group of nursery children, were forced to evacuate their JCC when it received a bomb threat. "It's just very disheartening," she said.
These threats are indeed examples of terrorism, but this characterization is made complicated by the fact that, more often than not, the current notion of terrorism in America results in intensely dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric, with far-reaching consequences. For example, the Kansas shooter discussed above reportedly assumed Kuchibhotla and Madasani were Iranian Muslims. According to the Washington Post
, he told a bartender at an Applebees 70 miles away from the crime scene that "he shot and killed two Iranian people in Olathe."
As I stated before, both the toppling of Jewish graves and attack on Mr. Kuchibhotla and Madasani are part of a larger pattern, and that pattern is largely attributable to Trump's rise: according to the Southern Poverty Law Center
, 867 cases of harassment or intimidation were reported in the United States in the first 10 days of his presidency. According to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
, FBI statistics from 2015 showed a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans. (The same study showed increased hate crimes against Jewish, black, and LGBT populations as well.) It is necessary to define the attack on Kuchibhotla and Madasani and the JCC bomb threats as terrorism, but it is equally necessary, then, that Americans redefine a terrorist. Our modern American terrorist is not an innocent Muslim sitting in an airport
. Our modern terrorist might be Christian. And our modern terrorist is probably white.
Furthermore, the details of the FBI's investigation into the JCC bomb threats remain vague. Paul Goldenberg, the national director of the Secure Community Network advising Jewish organizations on safety, called the recent bomb threats "unprecedented" in an interview with CNN
. This is because of the issuer's methodology and voice-masking technology: "[The caller] could be 15 or 60 years old." We really don't know anything about them. You can listen to the audio of one such threat via JTA News' Soundcloud
On a more positive note, Muslim-American activists Tarek El-Messidi and Linda Sarsour began fundraising
to help replace the toppled headstones of Jewish individuals in St. Louis. They exceeded their goal of $20,000 and raised $130,000. El-Messidi stated in a video on Facebook
, "I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry."
In Philadelphia, members of the American-Muslim organization Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA also visited the vandalized Jewish cemetery and assisted with cleanup efforts. The same occurred in Rochester, N.Y. after Michael Phillips, president of the Britton Road Association, a nonprofit which oversees the Britton Road Cemetery, contentiously refused to label the toppling of Jewish graves there a hate crime
Top photo: JCC Association of North America
More from BUST
Support Feminist Media!
During these troubling political times, independent feminist media is more vital than ever. If our bold, uncensored reporting on women’s issues is important to you, please consider making a donation
of $5, $25, $50, or whatever you can afford, to protect and sustain BUST.com. Thanks so much—we can’t spell BUST without U.