A teenager was arrested last week in relation to the scores of bomb threats against Jewish institutions throughout North America and elsewhere. There was widespread relief over the arrest, on the assumption that most, if not all, of the threats had emanated from this one individual.
There was also astonishment and heartbreak, though, when the alleged perpetrator was identified as a Jew with dual American and Israeli citizenship. Very little is known beyond the basic facts of the arrest and that the young man, who lives in Ashdod, in southern Israel, has a brain tumour that affects his cognitive abilities.
The bomb and other threats, the graffiti, hate materials and cemetery desecrations experienced in various parts of the world recently have combined to create a sense of unease unprecedented in the memory of most North American Jews. If a young Jewish man was indeed the cause of much of this anxiety for so many, how are we supposed to respond to this news? Would we prefer it were a Ku Klux Klanner who did these deeds? Does it make a difference?
Certainly it makes a difference.
Rational or not, there is more of a sense of shame, betrayal and even fear. And, as a commentator wrote in the Forward, there is the question, “Will people take seriously future antisemitic threats, or will our concerns be dismissed if it’s another Jew who is responsible for them?” This idea – that future threats to our community could be dismissed because these repeated incidents emanated from a Jew – is threatening in itself.
The arrest brought confusion for many. How to respond? If these deeds were the doings of a Jew, is it antisemitism, or something else? The Anti-Defamation League was unequivocal.
“These were acts of antisemitism,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the ADL. “These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.”
While it remains to be seen what personal, ideological or other motivations may have inspired these (and other) threats, their impacts are clear. The arrest does not erase the experiences of parents rushing their children out of swimming pools or seniors hurrying to evacuate buildings.
Beyond this, though, the sad circumstance is part of a larger narrative. Not only have current events given people with antisemitic ideas apparent permission to express these, we see the president of the United States hesitating and equivocating in condemning antisemitism and, worse, openly engaging in discriminatory statements and actions against Muslims and Mexicans.
Neither is the social disease of discrimination absent in Canada, as demonstrated by anti-Muslim comments and threats over – ironically – a parliamentary motion against Islamophobia, as well as the anti-Jewish remarks of some Muslim clerics in Ontario and Quebec.
But, Canadians can be proud of at least one thing. As British Columbia’s NDP leader John Horgan said in an interview with the Independent (see jewishindependent.ca/b-c-ndp-leader-talks-with-ji), these incidents have encouraged our elected leaders and ordinary citizens to stand together to reiterate our commitment to diversity and tolerance.
The best antidote to the bad things we see in the world is all of us standing up to do more of these good things.