By Andrew Lapin
(JTA) — Some Jewish institutions are closing down for the day Friday amid fears about Hamas-inspired violence abroad, although the FBI and major Jewish security groups say they are not aware of specific threats against Jewish targets in the United States.
Concerns about pro-Hamas demonstrations appear to have stemmed from a speech by Khaled Meshaal, a former Hamas leader, calling for street protests on Friday. Meshaal made the call on Tuesday on Yemeni television, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates Arabic media clips; Reuters reported a version of his comments on Wednesday.
“We should take to the streets and the city squares in Arab and Islamic cities, as well as in cities everywhere where there are communities,” he said, according to MEMRI. “There is a call this Friday – the Al-Aqsa Deluge Friday.”
The comments have ratcheted up fears just days after a Hamas attack on Israel — which came as a surprise — left thousands of Israelis dead, injured and taken captive, in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
Bill Humphrey, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas security director, has been working with law enforcement to ensure community safety in light of the war in Israel. Humphrey told the TJP Thursday, that there are currently no credible threats in the Dallas area. However, he said it is a dynamic situation. “We are working with our intelligence communities, making sure that we don’t see something that is a specific threat and want to be able to get through tomorrow peacefully, ”Humphrey said.
As an extra measure of safety, patrols by the Dallas, Plano and Richardson police departments have been stepped up around Jewish institutions and synagogues in the community. “Things could change but until they do, it is business as usual. We expect people to go to work and go to school and carry on with their normal lives,” Humphrey said.
Israel has urged its citizens abroad to avoid protests and rallies on Friday. Some Jewish schools in London, Amsterdam and a handful of places in the United States have decided to close for the day. Other Jewish institutions are staying open but shoring up their security practices. Police are being deployed in extra numbers in many places. And some families are considering keeping their children home out of an abundance of caution.
“Right now, your Jewish mom friends are busy texting each other to figure out if sending our kids to school tomorrow, declared a day of global jihad against all Jews, is a good ideal,” a Los Angeles mother said in a widely shared post on Instagram. She later indicated that her child would stay home.
In a sign of how widely fear was spreading, the striking actors union, SAG-AFTRA, announced late Thursday that it would suspend its picketing on Friday because of security concerns.
“There’s a great deal of anxiety about tomorrow,” Michael Masters, CEO of the Secure Community Network, a Jewish security nonprofit, said on a call with Jewish communal leaders on Thursday.
But he emphasized that the organization’s monitoring had not turned up further reasons for concern. “As of this time we are not aware of any direct credible threats against the Jewish community in the U.S.,” he said on the call, encouraging Jewish organizations “to remain open and active, always vigilant.”
The Anti-Defamation League, an antisemitism watchdog, issued a similar statement Thursday night. “ADL has reviewed this information [and] is in close coordination with our partners in law enforcement and Jewish security organizations,” it said. “At this time, [the ADL’s] Center on Extremism is not aware of any credible threats to Jewish communities in the United States.”
The scale of the attack in Israel and the staging of pro-Palestinian protests in various cities in subsequent days have many Jews on edge. In a sign of how seriously authorities are taking the threat, FBI Director Christopher Wray joined the SCN call.
“We are working to confirm whether there is any validity to that information,” he said about the idea that Americans should expect widespread pro-Hamas activity. Local news outlets are variously warning about a “global day of jihad” and a “day of rage,” although the MEMRI translation of Meshaal’s comments did not include either phrase.
Brad Orsini, SCN’s senior national security advisor, said it would be a mistake to retreat out of concern over Meshaal’s comments.
“We don’t want the community to overreact,” Orsini said. “We need to keep our organizations open. We need to continue to do our solidarity events. We need to continue to push our kids to day schools.”
Some Jewish day schools were canceling classes for Friday on the recommendation of security consultants. They included all Jewish schools in Amsterdam, several in London, and a number in the United States.
The head of a California day school, without citing the Hamas message directly, told parents in an email that school would be closed “out of an abundance of caution” on the advice of “our security consultants.” Three Jewish schools in the Bay Area are closed Friday.
A Brooklyn school did cite the Hamas statement in announcing that classes would be canceled on Friday. The school said it understood that many schools would remain open, but that its security consultants recommended closure — and left it to parents to break the news to their children. It also said the school would launch new procedures designed to keep students safe next week, including suspending visits to local parks and barring food deliveries for students.
New York City authorities held their own briefing call for Jewish leaders on Thursday where they emphasized that there was no knowledge of any immediate threats Friday. The heads of multiple schools in the city cited the call in explaining to parents why they would be staying open.
Other groups, after reviewing reports about the Hamas message, told their communities to carry on as usual.
“At this time there are no known credible threats to the Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey,” Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a local security group that’s part of a wider coalition called the Jewish Security Alliance, said in a statement. “Accordingly, we are advising institutions to remain open and operational.”
The CEO and security head of Shalom Austin, the Jewish federation in Austin, Texas, said they had consulted with SCN and local and federal law enforcement before deciding not to cancel events, they explained in an email to their community. They said carrying on represented an act of resilience.
“Statements such as these [from Hamas] are a form of emotional terrorism meant to deter us from participating in our daily routines and activities, and to further adversely affect our emotional condition,” they said.
Sharon Wisch-Ray contributed to this report.