Local police are investigating dozens of vulgar calls that overwhelmed a Palestinian community center in New Jersey on Tuesday and included Islamophobic and misogynistic rhetoric, as well as death threats and threats of sexual abuse.
Members of the all-female staff at the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton said they had opened the facility on Tuesday to begin the new semester of its Arabic program for children, prepare for an advocacy meeting with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and get “ready to continue serving our great community.”
“Unfortunately, we instead were all met with violent anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic rhetoric, all coupled with [vulgar] misogyny and threats of sexual abuse,” the center said in a statement.
According to the statement, the center received about 30 calls from 11:50 a.m. until the facility closed at 6 p.m. local time. Staff said the calls at one point came from two male individuals, the main one identifying himself as “Jebediah Morris.” In initial calls that day, the same man stated, “You guys aren’t even a real country,” in reference to Palestine.
The caller then repeatedly told the staff not to “blow up any buildings because that’s what you people do,” and threatened to sexually assault and rape staff members to “give [you] a taste of your own medicine.”
The caller first claimed to be from “Brunswick” before later saying that he “lives nearby so [I] should come over there and beat the shit out of you.” The caller sometimes used a private number to block his name and location, and other times the caller ID indicated he was phoning from Texas.
The man asked multiple times if the staff were Palestinian, and when asked why that mattered, he said it was “so I know to come blow you up.” He accused PACC of being a terrorist organization. Asked where he had received such information, he referred to the Israeli government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Recordings of the calls were shared with The Record and NorthJersey.com, and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) released videos including some of the threats that PACC staff had captured.
“Most important for us right now is for people to recognize how layered this incident is,” Abire Sabbagh, PACC community engagement coordinator, said in a statement. “It’s heavily politically charged, and anti-Palestinian, as well as extremely misogynistic.”
“This did not come out of nowhere ― this comes from the country’s blind political, financial, and moral support to Israel. What happens abroad affects what happens to our communities here, and right now we’re most concerned about the beautiful and diverse community we serve ― especially the most vulnerable within, our women and children.”
Clifton police responded to the scene after staff members reported the first wave of calls and had a patrol car outside the center on Tuesday, with an officer inside for some of the later calls. As of Wednesday morning, the center has decided to remain open with consistent security in place for the rest of the week.
“PACC staff are rightfully shaken up, but are empowered by the strength and support of the community,” the center said. “Like our people and homes in Palestine, we will not be intimidated, we are not going anywhere, and trust us, we will prevail.”
Police have launched an investigation into the incident. However, detective Lt. Robert Bracken, commander of the Clifton Police Department’s detective division, did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for an update on the probe. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office is also investigating the incident as a bias crime.
The New Jersey chapter of CAIR filed a complaint about the threats with the FBI, which would not comment to HuffPost on the specifics of a potential investigation. The FBI told CAIR-NJ on Tuesday that it would look into the calls and that it is in contact with the state’s homeland security office, which is also aware of the bomb threats targeting PACC.
The FBI said it would call CAIR-NJ back, but the chapter’s executive director, Selaedin Maksut, said the organization has not heard from the bureau since Tuesday.
“Propaganda in support of Israeli apartheid and brutality that demonizes Palestinians provides fertile ground for anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim hatred here in America,” Maksut said in a statement. “This propaganda, adopted by some New Jersey elected officials, gives a false sense of entitlement to those ― like the racist caller ― who make violent threats against Palestinian community members.”
“Calling out anti-Palestinian hatred and Islamophobia is not controversial,” Maksut continued. “New Jersey elected officials must be loud and clear in their condemnation of this violence.”
Booker, who had an upcoming meeting with PACC staff, tweeted on Wednesday that Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hate “have no place in our state, our nation ― or anywhere.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) also tweeted that he is “appalled” by the threats of violence against the center.
“These violent and vile threats are unacceptable,” Booker said. “We must all speak up and call out hate in all its forms.”
The Israeli government and Palestinian militant group Hamas fought for 11 days last month, causing widespread destruction in Gaza and killing more than 250 people, most of whom were Palestinians and many of whom were children. While the two groups eventually reached a cease-fire, the effects of the massacre carried over into the U.S., which has seen an uptick of both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim crimes.
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