Jewish leaders voice concerns over antisemitism in wake of FBI's 'rare' bulletin on synagogue threats

On Friday, the FBI announced that it "identified the source of the threat."

November 4, 2022, 1:28 PM

Jewish leaders in New Jersey are voicing their concerns over the state of antisemitism in the U.S. after the FBI issued a "rare" tweet on a threat to synagogues in the state, sending police scrambling to add patrols.

When the FBI announced the threat on Thursday, the agency urged people to "take all security precautions to protect your community and facility." The Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey advised people to be "calm," but on a "heightened state of alert."

On Friday, the FBI announced that it "identified the source of the threat...against an unspecified New Jersey area synagogue," and said the person "no longer poses a danger to the community."

Hoboken Police officers stand watch outside the United Synagogue of Hoboken, Nov. 3, 2022, in Hoboken, N.J., after the FBI said is received information about credible threats.
Ryan Kryska/AP

Rabbi David Levy, the New Jersey regional director of the American Jewish Committee, told ABC News he was "incredibly disturbed" by Thursday's tweet from the FBI, calling the agency's warning a "very rare event."

Levy, who spent decades as a congregational rabbi before joining the AJC, said, "We certainly receive threat assessments from agencies, from local police, or state police...but in my time as a rabbi, I don't remember ever a time where the FBI put out an immediate public announcement of a credible threat."

Levy said he was on a call Friday morning with the FBI, New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Protection, and said "the representative from the FBI made note that when they had this credible threat, they felt it was important to get it out as widely and as quickly as possible -- because they did understand that synagogues were having evening worship, and that synagogues had young people in religious school classes and Jewish schools were open."

"I'm grateful to them for doing this," he said of the FBI. Levy added that on Thursday he reached out to local law enforcement to assure they'd boost security, and he said "everyone I spoke to made clear that immediately on receiving word from the FBI they had put out patrols, they had added coverage to Jewish community buildings."

The young man who allegedly posted the threat online has told the FBI he is angry and dislikes Jewish people, but had no plans to do anything harmful, sources told ABC News on Friday.

According to sources, the young man had posted on a social media site that's frequently used for antisemitic discussion. His post was written as if an attack had already occurred and in a style used by mass shooters, which raised the level of concern and triggered the FBI's tweet out of an abundance of caution, sources said.

PHOTO: Police officers stand watch outside the United Synagogue of Hoboken, Nov. 3, 2022, in Hoboken, N.J.
Police officers stand watch outside the United Synagogue of Hoboken, Nov. 3, 2022, in Hoboken, N.J. The FBI says it has received credible information about a threat to synagogues in New Jersey and urged them to "take all security precautions to protect your community and facility.
Ryan Kryska/AP

The New Jersey threat comes amid a flashpoint in the national conversation around antisemitism. Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League's annual report, and the issue has been in the news consistently in recent weeks due to antisemitic rhetoric shared online by rapper Kanye West and NBA player Kyrie Irving.

"The timing of Kanye's words and Mr. Irving's words could not have been worse. We're in a time of rising antisemitism," Levy said. "We're in a precarious time in our nation's history. In our most recent survey on antisemitism...we found one in four American Jews said that they had experienced some form of antisemitism in the last year...and four in 10 told us that they've actually changed their public behavior to avoid being identified as Jewish."

He continued, "What does that say about our society if so many of us are living in fear?"

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, told ABC News the FBI contacted him on Thursday to help get the word out to New Jersey's orthodox synagogues.

"It's deeply disturbing and troubling," Diament said, adding, "There have been threats to synagogues consistently, so, sadly, we're not surprised."

The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center has been working with synagogues on improving security for years, he said. On Thursday, the center asked synagogues to "increase their level of vigilance" and reach out to local police departments. He said many New Jersey police departments deployed extra patrols to synagogues in their jurisdictions.

Diament stressed it's not just synagogues seeing threats of violence.

"Churches and mosques and Sikh temples -- we're living in a time in which, tragically, houses of worship in the United States of America are not assumed to be the safest of places," Diament said.

Levy urges Americans to try to recognize antisemitism and speak up when they see it.

"Silence adds fuel to the fire of hatred," he said.

In the wake of Thursday's threat, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell are meeting virtually Friday with Jewish leaders.

"As of now there are no credible threats against synagogues in New York City, but out of an abundance of caution you will see increased police presence in our Jewish community and at houses of worship," Adams said. "The insidious rise of blatant anti-Semitism in recent years, with vicious lies and hate spread by voices of bigotry and intolerance, must never be ignored. It must be confronted. We will keep our Jewish community safe."

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