On March 1, I penned a column excoriating Donald Trump and other mainstream conservatives for suggesting attacks on Jewish sites—bomb threats, vandalism, and otherwise—were false flag attacks designed to discredit the right.
Later that week, Juan Thompson—a former journalist for the left-wing outlet The Intercept—became the first man arrested for calling in some of these threats, allegedly in the hopes that he could blame his ex-girlfriend for the crime. Clearly, I lack the gift of timing.
Today, Israeli officials announced the arrest of a 19-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship who is alleged to have been behind many of the remaining bomb calls. For anti-Semites, it is a glorious moment (indeed, the anti-Semites are not hard to identify: they’re the ones who are more ecstatic that the perpetrator was Jewish than they are relieved that he was caught.)
For Jews, by contrast, this is agonizing. First having to endure these threats, we must now also deal with the painful knowledge that many of them were acts of betrayal. Likewise, all of us know we will as a class lose credibility for the actions of one deranged member. It is difficult to fathom a greater act of treason against the Jewish people than what this man did. It was all I could do not to keep thinking of Cynthia Ozick’s curse against Simon Wiesenthal’s SS officer in The Sunflower: “Let [him] die unshriven. Let him go to hell. Sooner the fly to God than he.”
But now we must deal with the aftermath. I am grateful that the perpetrator has been caught; I hope it signals the end of this terrible moment in Jewish history. Still, there continues to be much we don’t know. In particular, the suspect’s motive has not been revealed; there is some talk that he is mentally ill. But even at this juncture, there is something we can say with absolute confidence:
The man who did this was anti-Semitic.
The ADL was absolutely right when it said, in response to the arrest: “These were acts of anti-Semitism. These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.” That he was Jewish is utterly irrelevant—if anything, this is a fantastic illustration of how Jews can commit anti-Semitic acts.
Nor does his particular motive matter. When Juan Thompson was arrested and persons began crowing that—aha!—it was not actually a case of anti-Semitism, I disagreed fervently. Thompson, after all, did call in these bomb threats. He did terrorize Jews. That he did so with the idiosyncratic motive of smearing his ex-girlfriend doesn’t matter—that he cared more about ruining his former partner’s reputation than he did about the Jewish sense of security does not absolve him of anti-Semitism, it confirms it.
Likewise, I don’t yet know why the man who did this, did what he did. But I have no agony whatsoever saying:
If he did this “for the lulz,” he is an anti-Semite.
If he did this because he thought American Jews were soft, liberal, beholden to leftist ideology and insufficiently “pro-Israel,” he is an anti-Semite.
If he did this because he wanted to discredit Donald Trump and the American political right, he is an anti-Semite who also did a grave injustice to President Trump and his supporters.
If, like Thompson, he had some other motive, he is an anti-Semite who thinks his personal hobbyhorses matter more than letting Jews live in peace and security.
And if he was so mentally ill that he had no coherent motive that can be discerned at all, he is a mentally ill anti-Semite.
I play no favorites when it comes to anti-Semitism; it is equally despicable no matter who the perpetrator is. Nor do I apologize for declaring that these were anti-Semitic attacks, because they were anti-Semitic attacks.
They just happened also to be acts of betrayal as well.
David Schraub is Lecturer in Law at the University of California-Berkeley. He blogs at The Debate Link and can be followed on Twitter @schraubd.