Threats to Jewish centers, including one in Durham, have observers on edge
Posted February 21
Updated February 22
Durham, N.C. — A Jewish school in Durham became a local example Wednesday of a series of threats being made nationwide.
Police were called to Lerner School on West Cornwallis Road and didn't find any evidence of an explosive.
Organizations that monitor hate groups and hate crimes believe that threats to Jewish institutions are on the rise.
Here's a look at recent incidents targeting Jewish sites and anti-Semitism in the U.S.:
ARE HATE CRIMES TARGETING JEWS INCREASING?
Human rights activists and organizations are convinced that President Trump's popularity and electoral victory created an acceptance into the mainstream of the "alt-right," an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism, and along with it, anti-Semitism.
There have been reports nationwide in recent months of anti-Semitic incidents, including people yelling pro-Hitler comments at a rabbi on the street in Providence, Rhode Island, swastikas drawn in subway cars in New York City, and bomb threats at Jewish buildings in several cities.
But determining whether such incidents have increased is difficult.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that monitors hate groups and extremists, reported last week that the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. rose from 892 in 2015 to 917 in last year. But that's still short of the all-time high of 1,018 hate groups in 2011.
The organization also counted 1,094 bias-related incidents in the month following Trump's November election victory, including 33 against Jews, 108 involving swastikas and 47 white nationalist fliers.
New York City police keep a running tab of hate crimes. As of Sunday, 31 hate crimes have been reported against Jewish people this year — more than double compared to the same period of 2016.
Official nationwide government data for the last year isn't available. The FBI tracks hate crimes, but the most recent available data is from 2015.
WHAT HAS INCREASED CONCERNS ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM?
Among the most recent events were bomb threats phoned in to 11 Jewish community centers across the country on Monday, including in Chicago, Cleveland and Houston.
No bombs were found and no arrests have been made, but the threats — along with similar threats over recent months at other centers — created fear and uncertainty among Jewish people.
Also on Monday, roughly 200 headstones were found knocked over or broken at a Jewish cemetery in suburban St. Louis. No arrests have been made for the damage at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri. Investigators have not yet determined if it was a hate crime. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, posted a statement on Facebook calling the vandalism "despicable" and "cowardly."
WHAT HAS TRUMP SAID ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM?
Until Tuesday, it was what Trump hadn't said that raised eyebrows.
Jewish groups and others were upset in January when a White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention Jews. Aides to the president defended the statement as "inclusive" of all who were killed by the Nazis.
Last week, when a reporter from the Orthodox Ami Magazine tried to ask Trump during a news conference about increased reports of anti-Jewish harassment and hate crimes, Trump interrupted, saying, "not a fair question." When reporter Jake Turx tried to continue, the president said: "Quiet, quiet, quiet ... I find it repulsive. I hate even the question."
Trump went on to call himself "the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your life," and the "least racist person."
But on Tuesday, Trump denounced threats against Jewish community centers as "horrible" and "painful," saying more needed to be done "to root out hate and prejudice and evil."
Speaking after a tour of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump said: "This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms."