Op-Ed: U.S. Jews must wake up to homegrown terror threat

NEW YORK (JTA) — While the nation’s attention is again focused on a foiled act of homegrown terrorism, this time in Oregon, the Jewish community has good reason to stay on high guard. A new FBI report on hate crimes shows that Jews are targeted more often than any other religious group in the United States.

While this is nothing new — since 2000, Jews have consistently comprised the majority of victims of such hate crimes — the new report reveals that this year, 71 percent of hate crimes based on religious bias targeted Jews, the highest percentage of such crimes directed at Jews in a decade.

According to the FBI, Jews are targeted 8.7 times more than Muslims, 18 times more than Catholics and 24.5 times more than Protestants.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, al-Qaida now presents a new and more direct threat to the American Jewish community: One of the packages in last month’s foiled al-Qaida cargo bomb terror plot was addressed, accurately, to a Chicago synagogue. The plot is a reminder that al-Qaida, nine years after 9/11, continues to target the U.S. in every possible way. Significantly, this was the first time that al-Qaida directly targeted Jewish institutions in our country.

Why Jewish institutions? The most recent issue of Inspire magazine, published by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, explained: "Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists, and we in Al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine." It went on to say that Chicago synagogues were targets because they are in "Obama’s city."

This demonizing of Jews is nothing new for al-Qaida. In February 1998, Osama bin Laden and his associates made al-Qaida’s first public pronouncement, issuing a fatwa in the form of a news release that announced the establishment of a terrorist coalition called the International Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. It called on "every Muslim who believes in God and hopes for reward to obey God’s command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can.”

In recent years the Jewish community has been threatened by homegrown terrorists inspired by al-Qaida and like-minded jihadist organizations. The foiled 2009 car bomb plot by four extremist Muslim converts to attack two synagogues in the Riverdale section of New York City’s Bronx borough is perhaps the best-known example. The four were convicted in October.

Less well known is the series of attacks against Jewish targets planned by Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a self-described jihadist who carried out the June 2009 shooting at an Arkansas military recruitment center, killing a U.S. soldier and wounding another before he was arrested. Muhammad had an ambitious plan to assassinate rabbis in Arkansas and Tennessee, and subsequently carry out a series of attacks on Jewish institutions in the Northeast.

In 2005, a Los Angeles homegrown terror cell of extremist Muslim converts calling itself Jamiat Al-Islam Al-Sahih plotted to attack synagogues, the Israeli Consulate and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport.

“This cell was closer to going operational at the time than anyone since 9/11," Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Downing said.

Although Jews are top targets in the crosshairs of Islamist terrorists, many in the Jewish community have been slow to open their eyes to this reality. We are grateful for the responsiveness of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to our security concerns, but American Jews also must take responsibility by instituting training for security awareness at Jewish institutions and working together with the Secure Community Network to introduce Homeland Security’s "See Something, Say Something" campaign within our community.

Failing to address the reality that Jews are being targeted places our community in further peril. As the great sage Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

(Yehudit Barsky is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.)

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