Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley today issued a statement about the ongoing threats to Alabama’s Jewish community and said he has authorized the use of state resources for investigation.
“As the Governor of every person of Alabama, I will not tolerate targeted threats against any segment of the community,” Bentley said. “I have been briefed on the bomb threats at the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham, and I have ordered the State Bureau of Investigation, a division within the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, to coordinate with local and federal law enforcement officials to provide investigative resources. I am deeply troubled for our families and communities that have been threatened and feel frightened. I can assure the people of our state that Alabama will not tolerate any threat, we will bring those responsible to justice and we will provide any resource necessary to protect every one of our citizens.”
Bentley returned to Alabama on Monday after four days of meetings with the nation’s governors that included discussions with President Trump and members of the Trump Administration. Bentley was at the annual winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C.
Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center has been targeted on three separate occasions this year for threats, part of threats received at similar facilities across the country.
The threats have been hateful and hard to deal with, said Betzy Lynch, executive director of the Levite Jewish Community Center.
“They’re malicious and horrific,” Lynch said. “We’re taking these things very, very seriously. We’ve vigilantly trained our staff. Anti-Semitism is thousands of years old. This is nothing new for us. Living with it on a daily basis is challenging. We can’t give in to that. We can’t allow it to be disruptive.”
The Jewish Community Center has a gymnasium and other facilities available to the public, along with child care and a Jewish Day School.
“It’s obviously taking a toll on our members and staff and guests,” Lynch said. “They feel disheartened that’s it’s happening. We couldn’t ask for as much support as we’ve gotten from the community, including people of other faiths. The law enforcement community has been incredible.”
After the building has been checked, activities return to normal as quickly as possible, she said. “We have a very specific protocol,” she said. “We walk right back in and we get right back to work.”
Jewish leaders had been hoping for a public stance from the governor and other state officials.
“There is a culture of hatred out there,” said Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham. “We need to demand of our public officials to take it seriously in a public way.”
Last week, Birmingham Mayor William Bell held a press conference to denounce the threats.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said President Donald Trump’s campaign set a tone toward minorities that extremists may have found reassuring.
“This is the fifth wave of these calls, these threats, about 90 incidents,” Potok said of the bomb threats.
“I think, sad to say, the candidacy of Donald Trump has unleashed a real panorama of hatreds. Trump defamed a lot of minorities in his campaign and Jews were the least of it.”
A group of parents of children in the Levite Jewish Community Center’s pre-school program, which includes mostly non-Jewish children, started an activist group last week after the second bomb threat. It’s called Family & Friends of the LJCC.
“The first time we got the bomb threat, it just scared us,” said Honora Gathings, who is Catholic has two children in the LJCC pre-school program. “I couldn’t breathe until my husband called to say he had the girls and they were all right. We hugged the kids that night and cried so hard. How do you explain this to them? For us, it’s really heartbreaking.”
The Family & Friends group has been lobbying public officials to speak out against the threats, she said. “We wanted to see elected leaders from the city all the way up to the state level come out and condemn these threats and say there is no room for hate in our schools and communities.”