FBI director warns of increased threat of attacks amid ‘historic levels’ of antisemitism in the US
Entrance to the FBI Building in Washington, DC. Photo: drnadig via Getty Images

By Jacob Gurvis
November 1, 2023

(JTA) — FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that antisemitism in the United States has reached “historic levels” in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas and cautioned that the threat of attacks was high.

Hamas’ attacks could “serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate several years ago,” Wray said on Tuesday, Oct. 31, in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee.

“The ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole other level,” Wray said.

He added that the FBI believes the greatest threat in the United States is “posed by lone actors.”

Wray noted in his testimony that while Jews account for less than 3% of the U.S. population, around 60% of religious-based hate crimes target Jews. Last week, the Anti-Defamation League reported a 21% spike in antisemitic activity in the United States since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. (Other countries have seen larger spikes as well as arrests of people suspected of planning terror attacks targeting Israelis and Jews.)

“The Jewish community is targeted by terrorists really across the spectrum — homegrown violent extremists; foreign terrorist organizations, both Sunni and Shia; domestic violent extremists,” Wray said.

Wray appeared alongside homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is Jewish, at a hearing convened to discuss security threats to the United States, including those stemming from the conflict in Israel.

“In the days and weeks since [Oct. 7], we have responded to an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American communities and institutions across our country,” Mayorkas said.

The hearing was held on the heels of a number of incidents and threats this week, including those directed at Jewish students at Cornell and at a Jewish Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen. The Biden administration also vowed on Monday to make a plan within two weeks to address what it says is “grotesque” antisemitism on college campuses.

“This is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance,” Wray said during the hearing. “We shouldn’t stop conducting our daily lives — going to schools, houses of worship, and so forth — but we should be vigilant.”

Congress has been notably unified in supporting the Biden administration’s response to the attack on Israel. But signs of the normally polarized climate crept into the hearing. In one particularly heated moment, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley asked Mayorkas about a homeland security employee who had posted pro-Hamas statements on her personal social media and said it was “despicable” that Mayorkas had not answered his questions on the issue.

Mayorkas said the employee had been placed on leave but fired back at Hawley, saying it was “despicable” to suggest that the post in question represented his entire department.

“Sen. Hawley takes an adversarial approach to me in this question and perhaps he doesn’t know my own background,” Mayorkas said during the exchange. “Perhaps he does not know that I am the child of a Holocaust survivor. Perhaps he does not know that my mother lost almost all her family at the hands of the Nazis. And so I find his adversarial tone to be entirely misplaced. I find it to be disrespectful of me and my heritage.”

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