WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday demanding he take concrete actions to combat the surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes throughout the country.
“A threat to the Jewish community, or any religious community, is a threat to us all,” Florida Rep. Ted Deutch (D) said at a press conference announcing the letter. “When Jewish institutions and schools are targeted, and when terrorist chat rooms on the internet pick up on targeting Jews, we must take action.”
Since January, there have been five waves of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and other institutions nationwide — totaling over 100 incidents, resulting in evacuations of Jewish day schools and parents pulling their kids out of JCC programs.
Other anti-Semitic attacks have also sparked worry in Jewish communities, including swastikas being drawn on numerous schools and other buildings. And in the last week alone, hundreds of Jewish tombstones in Pennsylvania and Missouri were vandalized.
The phenomenon led President Trump to open his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night by condemning anti-Semitism and saying the United States “stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”
Trump’s remarks came hours after he reportedly told a group of state attorneys general visiting the White House Tuesday that he suspected the bomb threats may have been called in to make “others” look bad. His comment was interpreted to mean the threats weren’t necessarily genuine anti-Semitic incidents, though the White House disputed that characterization.
The letter — signed by all of the House’s Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism — makes three major requests of the president to counter of anti-Jewish hate crimes.
It asks the Trump administration to ensure the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has “the necessary resources and information to fully investigate alleged anti-Semitic crimes and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.”
The department, the letter adds, should “encourage local law enforcement agencies to accurately and promptly report data,” noting that “some of these local agencies have historically under-reported or failed to report cases to federal counterparts.”
The Congress members also ask the White House to create a mechanism led by the attorney general that can “coordinate inter-agency detection” for responding to anti-Semitic incidents in cooperation with the FBI, the Departments of Homeland Security, Education and State, as well as the director of National Intelligence.
Lastly, the letter asked the president to use his administrative resources to evaluate growing anti-Semitism online, and specifically that which incites violence. Those findings should resolute in a “comprehensive policy response.”
At the press conference Thursday, New York Rep. Eliot Engel (D), who is Jewish, said the recurrent waves of bomb threats to Jewish centers and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries have left him feeling “insecure” as a Jew for the first time in his life.
Standing next to Engel and New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith (R) and New York Rep. Nita Lowey (D), Deutch added that the current trend was one that could not be ignored.
“If there was one bomb threat to a Jewish center in all four of our districts, that would be enough for us all to be standing here,” he said. “But there have been more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish centers, and all around the country.”