In the wake of Monday’s bomb threat targeting the Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, and amid a string of nearly 100 threats to Jewish schools and community centers across the country, Virginia officials and interfaith leaders came together to speak out against rising anti-semitism and show support for the local Jewish community at a news conference Friday.
Held at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, speakers included U.S. Rep. Donald Beyer Jr. who represents the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church, Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Attorney General Mark Herring, Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, as well as leaders from the Jewish community and the region’s top law enforcement officials.
At 9:17 a.m. Monday morning, Gesher received the bomb threat through what seemed like an automated phone call, according to school officials.
More than 100 people inside the school were evacuated while police searched the building for explosives. They determined there was no immediate threat to the school.
Friday’s news conference came amidst a nationwide scare for Jewish communities.
According to the Anti Defamation League, 96 Jewish institutions across 36 states have received bomb threats since January.
“We seem to be living in a time when it’s OK to be hateful,” Beyer said. “Those of us who are not Jews need to lift up, help, and stand in support of our Jewish friends.”
Attorney General Mark Herring noted that hate crimes are on the rise in Virginia, up 21 percent from a year ago. According to data from the Virginia State Police, anti-Semitic acts are the most common hate crimes motivated by religion in the commonwealth.
“We’ve got to stop,” Herring said. “We’ve got to come together as a commonwealth and say that hate has no place here. We need to recognize this as a serious crime, investigate it, and stand together as a community.”
Several of the speakers said they believe President Trump and his administration have played a significant role in the rise of hate crimes.
“[Trump] really has empowered a lot of racism and anti-semitism, homophobia and xenophobia across the country,” Beyer said. “Putting Steve Bannon, a white supremacist, alt-right leader in the White House; Jeff Sessions, certainly racist earlier in his career as attorney general, and some of the things that candidate Trump said.”
Herring said he met with the president this week with a group of attorneys general from around the country. In response to a question about the wave of anti-semitism, there was “kind of a mixed signal,” he said.
“At one point, [Trump] said it was reprehensible, but then said there are groups operating in reverse, which was a really curious and bizarre thing to say.
“This is not a time for conspiracy theories,” Herring added. “It’s a time for elected officials, and that goes all the way to the president, to stand strong and unequivocally denounce this kind of anti-semitism and hate.”