O A former Hamas leader’s call for a “day of rage” has put American Jewish communities on alert and prompted increased security around places of worship, schools and cultural institutions.
The nervousness was a sign of how the war between Israel and Hamas is having repercussions around the world, causing fear in communities, even in the absence of a credible threat.
Police authorities said they were on high alert for violence motivated by anti-Semitic or Islamophobic sentiments, following the Hamas attack on Israel. Jewish and Muslim groups have seen an increase in hateful and threatening rhetoric on social media.
“We cannot and do not rule out the possibility that Hamas or other foreign terrorist organizations exploit the conflict to call on their supporters to carry out attacks here on our own soil,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told Jewish community leaders, during a safety meeting on Thursday.
Ashley Reyes, 40, who is Jewish and lives in Montclair, New Jersey, said the escalation of the conflict has made her feel less safe and raised concerns for her 10-year-old son.
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve actively thought about telling my son, ‘If anyone asks you if you’re Jewish or if your mother is Jewish, say no,'” Reyes said.
At the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton, New Jersey, executive director Rania Mustafa said there has been an increase in harassing phone calls, emails and messages on social media. Mustafa said the group has closed its doors and is only letting in people they know or identify with.
“It’s been a very stressful week in every way: On the one hand, trying to convince the world that we are human and that our lives are as sacred as anyone else’s and, on the other hand, trying to protect our lives from being the target of attacks. And protecting freedom of expression, expressing opinions and solidarity with the Palestinian people”, he stated.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams told reporters on Thursday that police would conduct additional patrols in some city neighborhoods and send additional resources to schools and places of worship. Over the past week, there has been a large police presence at protests, rallies and vigils in the city. Some synagogues also said they would have private security guards.
Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul stressed that law enforcement was not aware of any credible threats against the state or city.
“We want to reiterate to New Yorkers that there is no reason to be afraid. No one should feel like they have to change their normal life or routines. In fact, when we change our behavior without a serious and credible threat, we are letting terrorists win,” said Hochul.
“I want every New Yorker to feel confident going to synagogue, going to school, walking the streets of New York and across our state.”
Meanwhile, a New York City councilwoman was arrested today for bringing a firearm to a student demonstration in support of the Palestinians.
Inna Vernikov, a Republican who is Jewish, has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Palestinian activists, describing the protesters as “terrorists” and accusing them of making Jewish students feel unsafe.
She was seen in photographs and videos with the butt of a pistol sticking out of her waist. Vernikov did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment, and messages left at his offices were not returned.
In recent days, New York City’s public university system has been the scene of a wave of dual protests in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel and the escalation of the war in Gaza.
Columbia University suspended public access to its Manhattan campus on Thursday ahead of a planned rally by pro-Palestinian activists and a rival pro-Israel group, saying only accredited students, professors and journalists would be allowed to attend. to enter. The demonstrations turned out to be peaceful.
In Washington, teams were seen placing metal barriers outside the Capitol on Thursday night. A Capitol Police spokesperson said in an email that they were “taking no risks” despite there being no specific threats.
Innovations International Charter School of Las Vegas, which has a campus located in a former Jewish temple, said today that it was canceling classes out of an “abundance of caution.” The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, also closed its campuses, telling parents in an email that there was no specific threat to the school but that it was also acting out of an “abundance of caution.”
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