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Bomb threats at US Jewish schools, 100 graves vandalized

Jewish groups and schools in 11 US states have reported bomb threats, a day after more than 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery were vandalized. The World Jewish Congress called the incident 'despicable and cowardly.'

The bomb threats, all of which appeared to be hoaxes, were received in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the JCC Association of North America said on Monday.

For some centers, it was the second or third time this year that they had been forced to put their threat evacuation drill into practice.

The JCC Association called for "swift and concerted action" from police to catch the purportators who it said "were trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities."

Second cemetery targeted

The threats happened barely a day after the second desecration of a Jewish cemetary in a week, after more than 100 gravestones at the Mount Carmel Jewish ceremony in northeastern Philadelphia were broken and overturned.

Local media said the damage was widespread and TV footage showed rows of headstones knocked down.

A week earlier, more than 150 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri. In an act of solidarity, Muslim groups raised tens of thousands of dollars to help repair the cemetary and said some of the funds would be used towards the latest incident in Pennsylvania.   

USA Philadelphia - Jüdischer Friedhof geschändet (Reuters/T. Mihalek)

The Philidelphia vandalism comes a week after a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was descrated

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said police were doing everything possible to find those responsible, and a $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to the vandals.

Within hours of the discovery, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia began raising funds to repair and restore the headstones.

Meanwhile, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) called on US authorities to "treat these acts with utmost severity," 

WJC President Ronald Launder described the two cemetery incidents as "chillingly reminiscent of the pogroms the Jewish people suffered for centuries in Eastern Europe and in the years of the Nazi rise to power."

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that it had documented 90 threats against against Jewish community centers and schools this year, including at least 20 bomb threats on Monday.

"While this latest round of bomb threats to Jewish community centres and day schools across the country again appears to not be credible, we are nonetheless urging all Jewish institutions to review their procedures," ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt said.

Rise in anti-Semitism feared

Some Jewish groups see the vandalism and threats as the latest evidence that Donald Trump's election as US president had emboldened anti-Semitic groups.

His campaign last year drew the support of white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

The White House said on Monday that Trump was "deeply disappointed" at the reports of further vandalism of a Jewish cemetery.

"The president continues to condemn these and any other forms of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms," said White House spokesman Sean Spicer in a daily news briefing.

mm/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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