Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday directed state authorities to investigate bomb threats made to a handful of New York’s Jewish Community Centers, including one on Long Island that was targeted Monday morning.
The governor is ordering State police to collaborate with local and federal agencies to investigate the threats and arrest those responsible. The rash of threats, which began nationwide in January, has unnerved Jewish communities—a religious group that is consistently the target of the most hate crimes, according to FBI statistics.
“I share the pain and the outrage of so many New Yorkers who are affected directly and those who are sickened by watching these attacks unfold,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will not allow anyone to intimidate or strike fear in the state of New York. The full force of government will be brought to bear in these efforts, and these perpetrators will be punished.”
On Monday the Mid Island Y JCC in Plainview was one of four Jewish Community Centers in New York to receive a threatening message during this current spate of hateful provocations. Earlier that day more than a hundred tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were reportedly discovered vandalized. About a week before, more than a 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis were desecrated.
Rick Lewis, chief executive officer of the Jewish center, said about 400 people were taking part in a range of activities Monday when the center received a phone call at 11 a.m. saying a threat had been made to the building.
In response, emergency protocols were immediately put in place and the building was evacuated, Lewis said. Nothing dangerous was found during a subsequent sweep of the building, and the center was reopened at 12:15 p.m., he said.
At the time of the threat, several hundred people inside the JCC were partaking in a host of activities, including swimming and exercising. The center’s nursery school was also open.
“It’s upsetting that there’s somebody out there targeting the Jewish communities,” Lewis said. Last Thursday night, this JCC had hosted a town hall meeting by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), which was attended by hundreds of people without any incidents reported.
Nassau County police confirmed that its units did respond to the threat, and the incident is under investigation.
While Suffolk County JCC’s were not threatened, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the department is “closely monitoring the situation.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of only two Jewish Republicans in the House of Representatives, called for those responsible to be prosecuted.
“There must be zero tolerance of any kind for this rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad,” Zeldin said in a statement.
The latest round of JCC threats comes a week after President Donald Trump finally condemned anti-Semitic attacks, which had become increasingly prevalent during the presidential election. Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center, said that Trump did not go far enough. “The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own Administration,” said Goldstein in a statement.
Anti-hate organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center attribute Trump’s anti-immigrant comments for emboldening radical right-wing groups. SPLC in a report released last week said the number of hate groups in the US has increased for the second consecutive year.
In a telephone conference call with constituents last week, Zeldin said he was critical of the Trump administration for omitting the plight of Jews when the White House issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It’s important that our statements reflect and honor and never forget the loss of millions of other people who weren’t Jewish,” Zeldin said.
According to 2015 FBI statistics released in January, anti-Jew attacks accounted for the highest number of hate crimes and for half the 1,354 religious bias offenses reported to the agency. That year also saw a significant spike in hate crimes—67 percent—against American Muslims.
Minority groups nationwide have expressed concern about such crimes, citing election year xenophobia. An attack on two men from India inside a Kansas bar last week has garnered nationwide attention after witnesses recalled the suspected gunman yelling, “Get out of my country.”
On Monday Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced the creation of a new Hate Crimes Unit charged with investigating these crimes.
“The diversity of Nassau’s communities is one of our greatest assets, and nobody should be a victim because of the color of their skin, the faith they practice, their gender, or the person they love,” Singas said in a statement. “Crimes motivated by hate and intolerance are especially despicable, and the creation of this unit underscores our commitment to aggressively prosecute these offenses.”