Former US special envoy on antisemitism 'surprised' by JCC perpetrator

"Something has changed in terms of antisemitism in the United States."

March 24, 2017 03:02
2 minute read.
JCC bomb threats

A US-Israeli teen who was arrested in Israel on suspicion of making bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand over the past three months, is seen before the start of a remand hearing at Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, Israel March 23, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – The revelation that an 18-year-old Jewish Israeli is likely responsible for a spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers is “surprising,” Ira Forman, who served as US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism during the Obama administration, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

News that a Jewish teen was behind the scares also surprised the JCC Association, along with several other Jewish American organizations that assumed the campaign was orchestrated by one or more antisemitic actors. The Anti-Defamation League responded on Thursday, warning that the perpetrator’s actions were still antisemitic, despite the fact that they were carried out by a Jewish individual.

“I was surprised – I didn’t expect this. I did think it might be coming from overseas, but not this,” Forman said. “Despite this, something has changed in terms of antisemitism in the United States. The cemetery desecrations are not being conducted by a 19-year-old in Israel; the increase in vandalism and harassment from far-right extremists online is not being conducted by a 19 year-old in Israel.”

Forman warned against oversimplifying the phenomenon that has gripped the United States in recent years. Both the FBI and the ADL have reported an undeniable uptick in antisemitic attacks, acts of vandalism and threats in 2016, although their formal compilations of reporting data will not be released until November.
Wave of bomb threats called to Jewish commmunity centers across the US , possible antisemitism(credit: REUTERS)

“It may have to do with the rise of social media, or socioeconomic anxieties,” Forman said. “You don’t want to simplify this. Saying that its ‘X’ or ‘Y’ wouldn’t be an honest answer.”

Forman underscored that from his experience antisemitism in the US remains less prevalent than in Europe, and that bigotry in America towards its Jewish community differs from European or Arab antisemitism.

“In terms of Jews and antisemitism, America remains an exceptional country – what’s happening here is not what’s happening in other places,” he explained. “Even before this news announcement, I thought we shouldn’t be pressing the panic button.”

Forman served as special envoy from 2013 until US President Donald Trump took office. The new president has yet to name his replacement, and US media reported last month that Trump’s team has considered cutting the position.

“It is a statutory position, you can’t eliminate the office or the position,” Forman said, while acknowledging the special envoy office may remain vacant under law.

“I’m getting mixed signals at the moment on whether it will be filled,” he added. “But I have no doubt it will be at some point.”

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