The main suspect behind bomb threats against Jewish communities in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Amid a wave of false bomb alerts that caused the evacuation of more than 150 Jewish community centers – mainly in the US, but also in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, over the past half year – the world was shocked to learn last week that the principal suspect is an American-Israeli dual national, whose father may also have been involved.
In the words of the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman: “It was heartbreaking to learn that a Jewish man is a prime suspect.”
It also shockingly defied the common wisdom that such acts were triggered by US President Donald Trump’s election campaign, attributed to evoking resurgent bigotry on the so-called alt-right.
Despite a partial gag order on the investigation – conducted jointly by the Israel Police and the American FBI – it was learned that the suspect, an 18-year-old computer wizard, used a sophisticated Internet connection that was extremely difficult to trace to issue the false warnings. Nevertheless, a combined effort by US and Israeli law enforcement led to his arrest, and that of his father.
After the suspect was finally remanded in custody hours after he tried to grab an officer’s gun during his arrest, his attorney, Galit Besh, told the press that the teenager has a nonmalignant brain tumor that causes “behavioral issues.” She also revealed that the suspect was home schooled, apparently due to an inability to study with others, and that he was rejected for service in the IDF “for medical reasons” that are commonly interpreted as mental health issues.
The suspect’s Jewish identity challenges the common narrative on antisemitism in America. The unexpected fact that an Israeli born to American parents doesn’t fit the expected white supremacist profile shows the danger of incautiously analyzing hateful acts, especially ones that violate the Jewish tradition of looking out for the welfare of fellow Jews.
Whether the suspect’s motivation was some twisted manifestation of self-hatred or the result of a medical condition, his hoax was his own deviation and cannot be used by antisemites to characterize all Jews.
Israel intends to try the suspect if he is found mentally competent, but it is unknown whether other countries might also seek to extradite him for prosecution.
The FBI worked closely with Israeli intelligence on the investigation, which began last September – months before Jewish organizations began to note a surge in bomb threats, according to Cary Gleicher, the bureau’s top agent in Israel. The investigation was brought to a climax last week, Gleicher told The New York Times
, when 14 FBI agents and technical experts arrived in Israel to assist in the suspect’s capture.
“This was a big deal,” he said, adding that it took the resources of both countries to get “across the finish line.”
“The eureka moment” came last Monday, Gleicher said, when investigators figured out who was making the calls.
Although the suspects arrest may have solved the crime of the scourge of phone threats against Jewish institutions, it does not mean that the fight against antisemitism can ease in the least.
Don’t forget that during the period of the bomb scares, there were also cases of Jewish cemetery desecrations and of swastikas scrawled on synagogue walls in the US.
According to a study released last week by the World Jewish Congress, antisemitic posts are uploaded to social media every 83 seconds, mostly on Twitter. Following the disclosure about the suspect, antisemites had a field day, posting that if the JCC bomb scares were fake, then maybe the Holocaust was as well.
This case may be a unique aberration, but the threats from real antisemitism are far from rare.
US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said in a statement at the end of the week that “the Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs.”
Let’s hope that commitment is met and the scourge of antisemitism is fought with the same tenacity that it took to uncover these appalling actions.