US lawmakers submit bill upping penalty for anti-Semitic bomb threats
Republican and Democratic members of the US House of Representatives on Monday introduced a bill that would increase the federal penalty for bomb threats and other threats against religious institutions and see such acts prosecuted as hate crimes.
The bipartisan legislation, called the Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, was submitted by Reps. David Kustoff, (R-Tenn.), and Derek Kilmer, (D-Wash.) and comes after over 150 hoax bomb threats were called into Jewish institutions across the US and Canada in six waves of harassment since the beginning of the year.
Though a 19-year-old Jewish Israeli-American has been arrested in connection to the bulk of the threats, the lawmakers submitting the bill maintained that "existing federal laws do not suitably deter these acts of hate."
"Religious tolerance is the bedrock on which our great nation was founded. We must defend the individual liberties of our neighbors of all faiths and protect places of worship, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that addresses the issue head on," Kustoff, who is Jewish, said in a statement.
"No American should be made a target because of his or her faith. Sadly, religious community centers across the country have increasingly had to lock down their facilities and call in bomb squads," said Kilmer.
The bill proposes amending the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, which limits the penalty for "credible threats" against religious targets to misdemeanor charges. The bill would ensure such threats could be prosecuted as hate crimes with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment if resulting in damage or destruction of property.
White House says Trump judgement on JCC threats 'was right'
Far-right groups claimed vindication that attacks previously blamed on rightwingers and alleged hatred resulting from Trump's election may actually have been carried out by a young Jewish American Israeli.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing on Monday that Trump had been right not to immediately blame the attacks on rightwingers, saying that "people on the left" had not been held accountable for their incorrect assumption on the matter.
"We saw these threats coming into Jewish community centers, and there was an immediate jump to criticize folks on the right, and to denounce people on the right and ask them to condemn them, and it turns out that in fact it wasn’t someone on the right," Spicer said.
"The president from the get-go had said ‘I bet you it’s not someone [on the right]’ and he was right."
Jewish organizations and Israeli media said the arrest was likely to boost conspiracy theories, while others worried it would weaken responses to a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the US.