A Houston Jewish community center became the latest target in a slew of coordinated bomb threats across the country, which have come in waves on a regular basis since January.
Around 10 a.m. Monday, the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center received an anonymous call from a person threatening to blow up the building, prompting immediate evacuation, including of preschool-aged children. Law enforcement deemed the threat to be not credible, and did not find anything suspicious in its sweep of the building. The center reopened around 2:30 Monday afternoon.
The Jewish Community Center Association of North America reported that at least 11 Jewish community centers were threatened on Monday.
"Jewish community centers and agencies across the country have received a number of phoned-in bomb threats, and this one seemed to follow that same pattern," said Jason Dobrolecki, chief marketing officer. "We had emergency protocols in place just in case we happened to receive one of those calls, and we put those procedures in place right after 10 o'clock."
Throughout the month of January, 48 other Jewish community centers had also been targeted. Reporters have tried on at least two occasions to ask President Donald Trump for his response to the apparent rise in anti-Semitism and what might be done about it, but both times he avoided answering the question, instead talking about his electoral college victory, angering Jewish leaders across the country.
In a press conference with the prime minister of Israel, Trump was asked what he had to say to the Jewish community in the United States and in Israel about the rise of anti-Semitism since his election campaign. Trump said, in full:
“Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory we had — 316 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on. There's a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time. ... As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you're going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening. And you're going to see a lot of love. You're going to see a lot of love."
Then, the very next day, a Jewish reporter tried again. He started by assuring Trump that he was not accusing him of being anti-Semitic and knew he had Jewish family members, but was simply asking how his administration planned to address anti-Semitism in light of the 48 bomb threats up to that point. Trump, apparently offended by the question, did not let him finish speaking, and told him to sit down.
“See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it's not. Not a simple question. Not a fair question. Okay, sit down. I understand the rest of your question...So here's the story, folks. Number one: I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number 2: the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican."
Again, the reporter clarified that he was not accusing Trump of being antisemitic.
"Quiet, quiet, quiet. See, he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media," Trump said. "But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question, because people that know me — and you heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday. Did you hear him? Bibi. He said, 'I've known Donald Trump for a long time,' and then he said, 'Forget it.' So you should take that instead of getting up to ask a very insulting question."
Standing outside the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center Monday, Ira Wise, who is Jewish and had spent several years as a pro-Israel advocate who also went on the air at KPFT, said he found Trump's lack of acknowledgment troubling, but said he didn't think Trump had anything to do with the rise in antisemitic incidents.
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"What is not reported is that hate crimes against Jews outnumber crimes against any other group by 2 to 1," he said, referring to the FBI hate crime database, which shows that of religious-oriented hate crimes, Jews are the targets just over 50 percent of the time, far more than any other religious group. "So, Jew hate? That's nothing new."
Wise lives next to the community center, and said that as a United Way-affiliated center, it has been a gathering place for Jews and non-Jews alike for years. Asked whether he was shaken up by a bomb threat so close to home, however, Wise said it was all too familiar, and did little of anything to worry him.
"I've seen it to my face," he said. "When I worked in radio, they called in bomb threats to the station then too: 'Get that terrorist Ira off the air or we're coming down to blow up your station.' Who's the terrorist when they're doing stuff like that? So does this bother me? No."
Update, 10:57 a.m.: On Tuesday morning, President Trump directly denounced the threats against Jewish community centers for the first time in a statement to reporters: “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."