We were as surprised as anyone else by the arrest of a suspect in the bomb threats against JCCs and other Jewish institutions in the United States and abroad, even as we counseled three weeks ago that “at least until we get a better idea of who did what, and why, we need to be careful not to impugn one political side or the other for incubating the perpetrators.”
It is probably fair to say that virtually no one imagined that the alleged perpetrator would turn out to be a teenage Jewish male with U.S. and Israeli citizenship, who was living in Israel. That’s almost all we know about Michael Kaydar, who Israeli authorities arrested on March 23 on suspicion of making most of the bomb threats we have lived through this year, as well as threats in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.
Even without Donald Trump’s entrance into politics — which many have blamed for inflaming ethnic and religious divisions and making it acceptable again to voice hate — most Jews pointed to right- wing white supremacists as the most likely culprits for a mass targeting of Jewish institutions. We certainly thought so. And it appears that we, and almost everyone else, were wrong.
Even so, it doesn’t mean that we should be less vigilant against hate and threats or that we should be less focused upon issues of safety for our community. We need to keep all of that up.
But, if Kaydar is the culprit, what lessons have we learned from this terrible and disquieting odyssey? Perhaps first and foremost, we learned that when we feel under siege, it is difficult to keep an open mind, to stay away from prejudging a result and to let law enforcement do its job. And second, we learned that individuals can use the power of technology to create tremendous disruption and fear, and possibly worse. There is more, of course, but these two lessons are significant.
We don’t yet know Kaydar’s alleged motives, or whether he is mentally disturbed, as some reports indicate. But, as observed by the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt, what he is accused of doing was “calculated to sow fear and anxiety and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.” And the fact that he is Jewish doesn’t change the analysis.
We are left with the fundamental fact that there are people out there who want to do bad things — to Jews, and also to other vulnerable minorities. That is a reality we are not going to change. So, we need to protect ourselves and our community and remain alert to threats. And when bad stuff happens, we need to remain calm, work with law enforcement and welcome the support of the many who wish us well. But we should never presume to know, in the absence of any evidence, just who is to blame and why.