FCC approves waivers to track Jewish center threats

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is granting an emergency temporary waiver to Jewish community centers and telecommunications carriers that serve them to help track down callers who have made threats, the agency said on Friday.

Jewish community centers and schools in at least 13 U.S. states have reported receiving bomb threats this year, stoking fears of a resurgence of anti-Semitism.

“This agency must and will do whatever it can to combat the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “I am pleased that we are taking quick action to address this issue and hope that this waiver will help Jewish Community Centers, telecommunications carriers, and law enforcement agencies track down the perpetrators of these crimes.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, on Wednesday urged Pai to grant a waiver to access phone numbers used to call in threats and “help bring criminals to justice.”

Schumer’s letter said bomb threats were simultaneously made to JCCs in 11 states on Monday – the fifth wave of threats in the past two months.

The letter noted that the Middletown School District in New York state was inundated last year by phone calls making terrorism threats from anonymous numbers. In that case, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler worked to approve a special waiver to access the caller information of the individuals making the threats, Schumer said.

On Friday, U.S. prosecutors said a disgraced former journalist, Juan Thompson, made eight bomb threats to Jewish organizations across the United States, including one in which he called for a “Jewish Newtown,” posing as an ex-girlfriend to retaliate after she had broken up with him.

Authorities are examining more than 100 threats made against JCCs by phone in five waves this year. Officials say these appear unrelated to the allegations against Thompson, who was arrested in St. Louis.

The government’s granting of waivers to access caller information has been rare.

FCC rules generally require phone companies to respect a calling party’s request to have its caller-ID information blocked from the party receiving the call, Pai said. A waiver of this rule may help the community centers and law enforcement identify abusive and potentially dangerous callers.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey met with Jewish leaders on Friday morning to discuss the ongoing investigation.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

St. Louis man charged over bomb threats to Jewish groups

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A disgraced former journalist made eight bomb threats to Jewish organizations across the United States, including one in which he called for a “Jewish Newtown,” posing as an ex-girlfriend to retaliate after she had broken up with him, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.

Juan Thompson, 31, was taken into custody on Friday morning in St. Louis, the first arrest to result from a federal investigation into a surge of threats against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) and schools that has rattled American Jews.

Authorities are examining more than 100 threats made against JCCs by phone in five waves this year, which appear to be unrelated to the Thompson allegations. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey met with Jewish leaders on Friday morning to discuss the ongoing investigation.

A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan accused Thompson of making threats, mostly by email, against organizations including a Jewish museum in New York and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All occurred after the first flood of phone threats in early January.

The hoax threats against JCCs have stoked fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism and forced many centers to be evacuated, including some with day care for young children.

Prosecutors said Thompson aimed to portray his ex-girlfriend as an anti-Semite, a characterization he repeated on Twitter. It was unclear if he shared those sentiments, and his recent posts did not include explicit anti-Semitic thoughts.

But the ADL said he had been “on the radar” due to activities, including “rants against white people.”

Thompson was a reporter for the Intercept, a news website, until he was fired last year for allegedly inventing sources and quotes.

Intercept editor Betsy Reed said in a statement that the website was “horrified” by his arrest.

‘NASTY RACIST WHITE GIRL’

The Intercept said in February 2016 that Thompson had employed a fake email account to pose as a source in an effort to hide his fabrications.

After his girlfriend broke up with him in July 2016, prosecutors said, Thompson used the same technique in a sustained harassment campaign against her.

A day after the relationship ended, Thompson sent an email purporting to be from a producer at a national news organization to her boss at a social service company in New York, according to the complaint. The email claimed she had been pulled over for drunk driving and sued for spreading a sexually transmitted disease.

In the following weeks, the woman received messages from a supposed relative of Thompson, falsely claiming Thompson was on his deathbed after a shooting.

Thompson later threatened to publicize nude photos of her, prosecutors said. He also sent a message to a national children’s welfare organization, claiming she admitted watching child pornography.

In late January, Thompson began emailing bomb threats to Jewish groups using his own name and then accused her on Twitter of having framed him. He also sent threats pretending to be her, according to the complaint.

The “Jewish Newtown” email apparently referred to the massacre of 26 children and educators at a Connecticut school in 2012.

On Feb. 24, he posted on Twitter, “Know any good lawyers? Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name.”

Thompson was due to appear in federal court in St. Louis later Friday on one count of cyberstalking. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.

The ex-girlfriend could not be reached for comment.

Authorities said they were still investigating the rash of threats against JCCs, as well as the desecration of headstones at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Rochester, New York.

St. Louis police will question Thompson about the city’s graveyard vandalism, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus in New York and Dustin Volz in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Jewish cemetery vandalized in New York, third case in two weeks

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The vandalism of more than a dozen headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester is being investigated by a New York hate crime task force, the third known case of a Jewish cemetery desecration in the country in the last two weeks.

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he ordered the investigation at Waad Hakolel Cemetery given the wave of bomb threats that later proved hoaxes targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has condemned the threats and attacks, although he has at times also questioned whether some perpetrators might be opponents of his seeking to link his new presidency with a rise in anti-Semitism.

Trump’s election campaign last year drew support from some white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

Besides the toppling of headstones at the Rochester cemetery, images of the deceased embedded on at least half a dozen headstones had been scratched away, although it was not clear how long ago, said Karen Elam, the director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

“It’s clear vandalism,” she said in a telephone interview after touring the cemetery on Thursday afternoon to photograph the damage. “Any vandalism of a Jewish cemetery is de facto anti-Semitism.”

Michael Phillips, president of the non-profit organization that oversees the cemetery, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper that there was no proof the vandalization was a case of anti-Semitism, citing the smaller scale of the damage in Rochester.

About 100 headstones were knocked over at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia last weekend, and about 170 headstones were knocked over in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

Officials at the cemetery in Rochester did not return calls seeking comment. In 2014, vandals toppled more than 40 headstones at another Jewish cemetery near Rochester, but local police concluded the vandalism was not motivated by anti-Semitism, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)

Chicago man faces hate crime charge in synagogue vandalism

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A Chicago man has been arrested and charged with a felony hate crime for allegedly smashing the window of a city synagogue and putting swastika stickers on its front door, police said on Wednesday.

Stuart Wright, 31, was arrested by the Chicago Police Department on Tuesday. He has been charged with one felony count of hate crime to a church or synagogue and one felony count of criminal damage.

Wright is scheduled to appear in a Chicago bond court on Thursday, police said in a statement.

Police said Wright smashed the large front window of the Chicago Loop Synagogue early on Saturday and affixed swastika stickers to the building’s front doors.

The attack, which was captured on surveillance video, was condemned by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.

There have been a number of hate and bias incidents reported recently in the United States. In January, a fire gutted a Texas mosque, with federal law enforcement officials ruling it arson.

On Sunday, a story about subway riders in New York working together to clean up neo-Nazi graffiti went viral on social media.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney#)

South African twins planned attacks on U.S. Embassy, Jewish buildings

U.S. Embassy in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African twins arrested over the weekend were planning attacks on the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Pretoria, as well as on buildings owned by Jewish people, police said on Monday.

Four South Africans, including the twins, Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, faced charges in court ranging from conspiracy to firearms offences, the spokesman for the elite police unit Hawks, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, said.

The four, arrested in Johannesburg on Sunday, will be detained in custody until July 19, when their case will be heard, Mulaudzi said.

Quoting the charge sheet, the News24 news organization said the twins had been attempting to fly to Syria. Security officials say there are no known militant groups operating in South Africa, but Britain and the United States warned in June of a high threat of attacks against foreigners in the country’s shopping malls.

Mulaudzi named the other two siblings as Fatima and Ibrahim Mohammed Patel.

“The indictment does talk to issues of terror plots that they were planning against the U.S. Embassy as well as Jewish Buildings in the country,” he said, referring to the twins.

“The twins have been charged with conspiracy,” Mulaudzi added. “The Patel siblings have been charged with the violation of the Firearms Control Act for now.”

The twins’ preliminary charge sheet states that their conspiracy occurred between October 2015 and July 8 this year, local newspaper the Times said on its online service.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a daily news briefing that the United States applauded Hawks for making the arrests and had “full confidence in the South African judicial system to handle this case according to internationally accepted best practices”.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla, additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham in Washington, writing by James Macharia; editing by Ralph Boulton and Cynthia Osterman)

Number of anti-Semitic incidents in Austria rises strongly

Pupils of the Lauder Chabad school

VIENNA (Reuters) – The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased more than 80 percent last year, with reported internet postings denouncing Jews more than doubling, an Austrian group said on Wednesday.

Jews across Europe have warned of a rising tide of anti-Semitism, fueled by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East, while far-right movements have gained popularity because of tensions over immigration and concerns following militant Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which began monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, said 465 incidents were recorded during 2015, over 200 of them being internet postings hostile to Jews.

The total number of internet postings reported to Austria’s constitutional protection authority as offensive remained stable in 2015, but the number of postings liable to be used in criminal proceedings doubled compared to 2014, according to an interior ministry spokesman.

“The whole picture is terrifying,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), said.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) urged the European Union and its member states in January to increase efforts to combat widespread anti-Semitic cyber hate, arguing that anti-Semitism in the region did not show any sign of waning.

IKG’s Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer said it was difficult to clearly tell who committed some anti-Semitic acts because offenders could not be identified and internet postings were usually anonymous.

But there was a clear trend of increasingly hostile behavior against the 15,000 Jews living in Austria from Muslims, the Jewish community representative said.

“There is an increasing concern in our community that – if the proportion of Muslims in Austria continues to rise due to immigration, due to the refugees – this could become problematic for us,” Fastenbauer said.

Austria has mainly served as a conduit into Germany for refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa but has absorbed a similar number of asylum seekers relative to its much smaller population of 8.7 million.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Israeli Minister Tells Jews To “Come Home”

In the wake of three terrorist attacks timed to celebrate Ramadan, an Israeli official is giving a simple messages to Jews in France.

Come home.

“I call on the Jews of France – come home! Anti-Semitism is rising, terror is increasing,” said Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“We are prepared to receive with open arms the Jews of France,” Elkin wrote in a post on Facebook.

The message comes on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying they were engaged in a battle against “dark forces.”

“The brutal murders in France, Tunisia and Kuwait again underscore that the enlightened world is struggling against dark forces. The fight against the murderous terrorism of extremist Islam requires unity, the beginning of which is the unequivocal condemnation of the murderers and those who support them,” Netanyahu said in a statement released to the media.

Immigration to Israel from France is already at an all-time high.  In 2014, for the first time since Israel became a state, France topped the list of countries of permanent immigrants.  That year, 7,000 made the move.   Officials estimate that 10,000 could move by the end of 2015.

Netanyahu has called for Jews to “come home” in the past following French attacks.  At the funeral of four French Jews killed in a Paris kosher grocery store, Netanyahu said “More than ever, today.  Israel is the Jewish homeland,” and the more Jews there are here, “the stronger we will be in our homeland.”

UK Student Organization Votes To Boycott Israel

A leading British student group has voted to join the anti-Semitic boycott of Israel spurred by the Palestinian authority.

The UK’s National Union of Students voted 19-12 to join the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign” started by the Palestinians as a way to attack Israel on the world stage.  The NUS is the umbrella student organization for the nation with over 7 million students represented in 600 schools.

The motion also calls on the British government to stop arms sales to Israel.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that the vote was taken by secret ballot, so it’s impossible to know which members of the group voted in favor of the anti-Semitic action.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the vote is really insignificant given the group’s previous anti-Semitic leanings.

“Instead of expressing hatred, British students would benefit from studying history and understanding that the distance between conveying hate language and prejudice to committing despicable crimes is not that great,” the spokesperson said.

Anti-Semitic Fliers Found In Washington, D.C. Neighborhoods

Residents across the D.C. area have reported hateful anti-Semitic fliers being placed outside their homes.

Residents of the Takoma neighborhood in northwest D.C. reported a two-page flier with declarations about Jews and false quotes was placed around their neighborhood some time early Thursday morning.  Police said that they had also had reports of the flier being distributed in Chevy Chase.

The flier was titled “Jews Destroy U.S. Financially” and stated “remove each and every Jew and Pro-Israel official from state and federal governments and financial organizations.”

The Washington Post reported the flier being delivered to readers in Bloomingdale, Cleveland Park, Friendship Heights, Georgetown and Mount Pleasant; in other neighborhoods in Chevy Chase; and in Arlington and Alexandria.

“We would have to consult with the state’s attorney to see if this activity actually rises to the level of a criminal violation,” Montgomery County Capt. Paul Starks said.

Police have asked anyone who saw the fliers being distributed to call police with a description of who carried out the distribution.

One of the homes hit by the fliers was that of a rabbi.

“I’ve really been touched by the response of my neighbors,” Rabbi Elizabeth Richman said. “There’s a small amount of feeling uneasy, and maybe feeling a little bit unsafe. I have been thinking about it all day, because of that feeling of unease.”

President Obama Addresses Anti-Semitism At Synagogue Speech

President Obama addressed anti-Semitism during an address at the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

“Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire,” Obama said.  “And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.”

The President reasserted America’s support for Israel.

“It would be a moral failing on the part of the US government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper,” Obama asserted.

The President added that it’s because of his belief in Israel’s right to exist that he has to be critical of some of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

“I must object,” he said to applause in the Conservative synagogue. “Papering over hard questions,” he said, is “not a measure of true friendship.”

Although the President admitted “The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners.”

The President gave a glancing mention to his Iran nuclear negotiations which he called “necessary”.

“The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution,” he said, adding that “I will not accept a bad deal.  As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise.”