POLITICS
02/22/2017 12:35 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2017

Anti-Defamation League's New York Headquarters Receives Bomb Threat

Jewish institutions around the country have seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the last few weeks.

The Anti-Defamation League received a bomb threat at its headquarters in New York City, the group announced Wednesday.

Law enforcement determined shortly after the anonymous phone call that the threat had not been credible, the ADL said in a statement. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the bomb threat against the ADL “unacceptable and un-American” and ordered the state police to conduct a full investigation.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the civil rights group is working with law enforcement officials to determine if the threat is connected to a recent spate of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers around the nation. 

At least 11 JCCs in 10 states received threatening phone calls on Monday. It was the fourth series of such messages this year. About 70 threats have been aimed at almost 60 JCCs in 27 states and one Canadian province since Jan. 1.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes make up the largest portion of religiously motivated attacks in the United States.

The series of bomb threats against the JCCs is “unprecedented,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Huffington Post earlier this week.

“I’ve been working at SPLC since 1999. I’ve never seen a string of attacks like this that are targeting the same kind of institution in the same kind of way,” she said. “This is new.”

It remains unclear who is making the threats or if they are coming from a single person or a group. 

“The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to the Anti-Defamation League. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence. As this is matter is ongoing, we are not able to comment further at this time,” the FBI said.

Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told HuffPost that the organization has been in close communication with the FBI over the incidents and is “confident that they are conducting a serious investigation into these threats.”

Last month, he said, the ADL partnered with the agency to organize a briefing for hundreds of representatives from the Jewish community regarding security matters. 

“This is not the first time that ADL has been targeted,” Greenblatt said, “and it will not deter us in our efforts to combat anti-Semitism and hate against people of all races and religions.” 

More than 150 members of Congress signed onto a letter today urging the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to take swift action addressing the bomb threats. The lawmakers also requested that the federal agencies advise Congress on what steps are being taken. 

President Donald Trump addressed the recent wave of bomb threats for the first time on Tuesday, saying that the JCC threats are “horrible, and it’s going to stop and has to stop.” It was his clearest denouncement of anti-Semitism yet and follows intense criticism that started during his presidential campaign that he has not forcefully condemned hate speech and extremism.

Since the election, the president had multiple opportunities to address concerns over rising anti-Semitism. Until this week, though, he either downplayed or denied the rise. Last week, when a Jewish reporter asked Trump explicitly about the recent spike in bomb threats against JCCs, Trump cut him off and told him to sit down. He also told the reporter his question wasn’t fair and claimed to be the “least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

Trump’s denouncement of anti-Semitism follows the controversy over his statement in honor of International Holocaust Memorial Day last month. In honoring the victims of the Holocaust, Trump did not explicitly mention Jews, setting off a wave of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. The ADL ripped Trump for the “puzzling and troubling” statement.

Greenblatt said in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday that Trump took an “important first step” by saying “on the record, for the first time, just how horrible and painful these incidents are and that anti-Semitism is indeed a problem.”

But Greenblatt added that Trump needs to actually take steps to solve the problem. He has called on the president to announce a comprehensive, Justice Department-led investigation into the wave of threats. He has also urged Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to enact hate crime laws in all 50 states. Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia have such laws on the books.

“The fact of the matter is we have lacked the statements on the record from the White House until now to shoot this down, and extremists love a vacuum,” Greenblatt said. “The lack of a statement created an environment that emboldened the bigots. The first step for all of our leaders is to show moral leadership.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization, also called on Sessions this week to create a special task force to investigate the bomb threats.

Anti-Semitism strikes at some kind of unraveling of the moral fiber of a country and its ability to be religiously pluralistic. Brian Levin, director of the Center of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino

These threat incidents are part an overall rise in anti-Semitism around the nation beginning in 2015. Ultra-conservative groups including white nationalists have become emboldened under Trump ― and although the number of Americans who directly support hardened hate groups remains far lower than in earlier decades, a recent report from the SPLC indicates that the number of hate groups in America is rising.

“When we’ve seen politicians condone or express anti-Semitism or simply not denounce it, it has been a scar on their public record,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

“I think President Trump, from both a pragmatic political standpoint but more importantly from a socio-historic standpoint, needs to recognize how damaging anti-Semitism in particular is on a society,” Levin said. “Anti-Semitism strikes at some kind of unraveling of the moral fiber of a country and its ability to be religiously pluralistic. It doesn’t stop with Jews, it will often start with Jews but it doesn’t stop with Jews.”

There are real-world consequences if a president doesn’t strongly denounce hate speech, Levin’s research suggests. 

He found an uptick in hate crimes against Muslims when Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, made a disparaging comment about Muslims in regard to the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino. But Levin noticed a marked decline in hate crimes after President George W. Bush responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by saying “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam” and quoting a portion of the Quran. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, however, and Levin said it’s impossible to determine if an intolerant statement inspired someone to carry out a crime ― or, conversely, if a tolerant message dissuaded someone from doing so.

This article has been updated throughout. 

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