With concern over violence against Jewish institutions and communities in the wake of the US election, Jewish security organizations have drawn up comprehensive plans for safety.
The possibility of post-election unrest and violence against the US Jewish community has officials of several security organizations concerned more than ever. It is something they have never had to deal with on such a comprehensive scale, they said.
Senior officials from several communal Jewish security groups identified the threat from far-right, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups as the most serious risk to the Jewish community. However, far-left groups such as Antifa pose threats as well, depending on the outcome of the election.
There have been no specific threats against Jewish targets, they said.
Their comments come against the background of what is widely considered to be the most divisive era in the US since the Vietnam War, as sharp political, ideological and social disagreements in the run-up to the election have created a febrile atmosphere in the country.
Secure Community Network (SCN), a nationwide security organization for Jewish communities, has been working with law-enforcement partners for more than two months to address the possibility of violence before, during and after Election Day, said Michael Masters, its national director and CEO.
The “threat environment” to Jewish communities had been “the most complex and dynamic” even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the health crisis has further intensified this situation, he said.
“Economic and social stresses resultant from COVID-19 have been exacerbated by an intense political environment, which certain elements are openly using to suggest that violence is appropriate, [and] have created a time and place which puts us in an entirely unique situation as a country and a community,” Masters said.
The Jewish community has been targeted by extremists from across the ideological spectrum, including anti-Zionists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, he said.
While the risk of violence comes from both extremes of the ideological divide, the most dangerous threat is from the far Right, Masters said.
In the last six years there have been far-right terrorist attacks in 42 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, and more than 24 individuals associated with far-right extremists regarding plans to attack Jewish targets have been arrested by federal law-enforcement agencies since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018, he said.
To help prepare Jewish institutions, the SCN has issued comprehensive recommendations to Jewish institutions and organizations around the country regarding security protocols and procedures, reporting of suspicious activity and coordination with local police and law-enforcement agencies.
Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, which is one of the parent organizations of SCN along with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he was concerned about the possibility of small groups of extremists taking advantage of protests by either left- or right-wing activists following the election.
“There isn’t a general fear of violence being directed at Jewish institutions, but we have seen that when there are political protests, some extreme groups could take advantage and target Jewish institutions,” Fingerhut said.
He expressed confidence that the country would be able to get past the caustic political atmosphere that has arisen around the election, adding that the country had done so in the past.
Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative (CSI), which oversees security for Jewish institutions in New York City, said there were two separate scenarios of possible violence against Jews and Jewish communities it has been planning for.
One scenario is that Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins and incumbent President Donald Trump questions the election results, as he has said he might.
White supremacists, militias and neo-Nazi groups could direct violence toward Jewish targets in such a situation in the belief that Jews had somehow orchestrated a Biden win, Silber said.
Although such groups do not have a large presence in the New York City area, they are present in parts of Pennsylvania not too far from New York, he said.
Last week, an extremist suspected of scrawling antisemitic graffiti and putting up antisemitic posters in Ithaca, New York, was arrested after bomb-making material was found at his residence and rifle parts were found at another location.
The other scenario is that Trump wins the election, and far-left groups, anarchists and radicals associated with Antifa engage in violent protests and riots, Masters said.
According to Silber, Jews and Jewish institutions usually are not specific targets in such riots, but they have been caught in the middle and attacked during racial-justice and other protests that have taken place this year.
Post-election violence against Jews was more likely to come from the far Right than the far Left, he said.
Concern over post-election violence was a unique situation that he had never had to broach in the past, Silber said.
The CSI did not tell Jewish institutions and establishments to close down on Election Day or its aftermath, he said, but it instructed that they make their locations more secure, check security cameras, ensure that security personnel are working, review emergency protocols, inspect their properties and remove objects that could be thrown at their buildings.
The CSI is working in close coordination with the New York City Police Department, the FBI and local county police departments, especially regarding polling places located in Jewish institutions.
Michael Miller, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, within which the CSI operates, said it has prepared hundreds of Jewish institutions in New York City for potential acts of violence. There was no intelligence or warnings of specific threats, he said.
“We are preparing to ensure that should there be demonstrations, riots or spillover in which Jewish institutions could get caught up, these institutions are prepared to protect their property and members,” Miller said.
Concern over post-election political violence was “an unprecedented situation” in his lifetime, he said.
“People would struggle to think of such a contested election where political emotions are so high that violence is a potential outcome,” Miller said.