Rep. Bass says ‘terrible’ election year contributed to threats against JCCs
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There were more than 100 threats against Jewish Community Centers in the first 12 weeks of this year, along with two attacks on Jewish cemeteries, and Los Angeles has not been immune. The Westside JCC two blocks from Shalhevet received two threats, the first Feb. 24 and a second March 9, both resulting in evacuation of the building.
On March 9, all 100 members of the U.S. Senate signed a letter that called for President Trump to take “swift action” against the threats and to speak out against anti-semitism.
Congresswoman Karen Bass has represented California’s 37th District, which includes Shalhevet, for the past 10 years. She grew up in Los Angeles and attended Hamilton High School, and in Congress concentrates on welfare and criminal justice reform.
Rep. Bass spoke with the Boiling Point’s Jordan Fields about the threats, President Trump’s administration, and Israeli security and settlements.
BP: Was the bomb threat to the JCC a federal crime?
REP. BASS: Any act of terrorism is certainly a crime, but a crime like that is usually handled by local law enforcement, and so LAPD has an active investigation going on. The FBI has taken a role and the FBI takes a role when they have these types of threats.
BP: Have you visited or do you plan to visit the Westside JCC to offer suggestions or for solidarity?
REP. BASS: We have issued a statement, I have not physically been there recently.
BP: Do you plan on going?
REP. BASS: Yes we actually are working on that now, I have been in D.C.
BP: Have you been in contact with Jewish leaders or the JCC this week?
REP. BASS: Yes, but in D.C.
BP: What have you told them?
REP. BASS: I think you can imagined what I told them. I think what is happening is horrible and I am very concerned about the rise of anti-semitism that is happening in our country now, and frankly I think that over the last month and especially coming off of an awful presidential campaign like we had, I am not shocked that this occurring and I think this is something we need to be very concerned about.
BP: Do you think the way the campaign went, do you think that has an impact on why the threats are coming?
REP. BASS: Absolutely I do and it is anti-semitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim, it’s racism, I think that we had a terrible year last year and the presidential campaign contributed to an atmosphere that I believe lends itself to this type of behavior, and I think it is absolutely critical that it be aggressively investigated, prosecuted, fought, spoken out against. The Children’s Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes, and hate crimes shot up in the last year.
BP: Prior to the recent bomb threats to several JCCs across the country, have there been any in the past specifically to the West Side JCC in our district?
REP. BASS: I do not know, I am sure that there have been; I do not recall anything of this magnitude. So I would have to think about that, but nothing comes to mind right now.
BP: Is there any kind of Congressional caucus or anything else being organized at federal level around the increased incidences of anti-semitism?
REP. BASS: Not that I am aware of. Members of congress have absolutely been speaking out against this and about it. I do not know if anybody is proposing or forming a Congressional caucus.
BP: What are your office and other members of Congress saying to people who are scared that they will be deported under President Trump – people who have been living here for a long time? What are you saying to them about their being scared of being deported?
REP. BASS: We are talking to people individually as well as having a Town Hall. We are having a meeting in the next few days to essentially help people.
To me it is not a matter of saying anything, it is a matter of what you are going to do to help people. I think that what the president is proposing in terms of immigration is absolutely draconian.
He is essentially laying the legal basis for massive round-up of people, he is talking about hiring ICE agents, 10,000 ICE agents. He is talking about opening up and expanding private prisons, and I think this is a point of solidarity, between the Jewish community, the black community, the Latino community, around the massive round-ups of people because all us, the Asian community. Because at different points in our history we have experienced these things.
I hate to put Trump in that box, but again when you ask about the anti-Semitism around the country, I think these things contribute to that.
BP: Do you think what he is doing with a deportation force and his stances on illegal immigration, is that unconstitutional?
REP. BASS: No, it is not at this point unconstitutional. The question is going to be what happens when it is implemented, as to whether or not they violate the constitution in the implementation.
BP: From the outside, it seems there is a lack of bipartisanship. What are you and your colleagues on both sides of the aisle doing to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats?
REP. BASS: Believe it or not, it does not make the news but there a lot of issues that Democrats and Republicans actually work together on. The problem is that the news media does not consider it newsworthy, so you do not hear about it.
I work very well with my Republican colleagues on a number of issues, including child welfare, criminal justice reform, issues related to Africa, so we do bridge the gap on different issues it just does not get a lot of publicity.
The way this administration is going, I think there might be bipartisan calls for an independent investigation. I do not think that will happen right away, but over time I think you will find more and more Republicans coming together voicing their concerns about Trump.
BP: What is your position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
REP. BASS: My position is that I very much support peace in the Middle East and the only way to get there is a two-state solution.
BP: What are your thoughts on Israeli settlements?
REP. BASS: I think that Israeli settlements, especially if they continue in the way they are continuing now, can be problematic for a two-state solution.
BP: How do you think Israel should go about responding to Hamas inciting terror?
REP. BASS: I think that Israel, and every other country, has to respond if they are attacked.
BP: In the wake of a recent tweet by Trump, what are your thoughts in regards to him saying that he believes that former President Obama wiretapped the Oval Office?
REP. BASS: [Ret. General James] Clapper, who was the head of national intelligence, said that there was no basis for that, there were no wiretaps, none of Trump or at Trump Tower. I think that it is a shock that the President of the United States would not check something out before he would tweet. I think it was shocking – not presidential – and irresponsible.
BP: Trump has been in office for about 45 days. Has there been anything encouraging from him that you have seen?
REP. BASS: No.
BP: What would you like to see from him that would ease the minds of Democrats?
REP. BASS: I would like to see Trump fully understand the role of the president and the responsibilities of the president and for him to act like a president. I do not believe in the first 45 days of his administration that he has a clear understanding of what the job is.
Let me give you some examples. For instance, what he said about the wiretaps. A President Obama or anyone else does not have the power to order wiretaps. He did not seem to know that.
He has spent his time signing Executive orders and has not been working with Congress for legislation; he does not understand that the role of the presidency is to sign legislation — and that executive orders are not a substitute for legislation. Those are two very recent examples.
BP: What are your priorities going forward in terms of different issues, not only for the people living the district — also around the country?
REP. BASS: I focus on transforming our child welfare system, I also focused on promoting US business in the content of Africa, on transforming our criminal justice system, making the business environment better for the entertainment industry, which is key industry in our region. And given the current administration, a major priority of mine is going to be preventing the administration from tearing apart the Department of Education, from holding back civil rights [and] voting rights legislation, and also protecting the environment.
I have a positive agenda moving forward, but also an aggressive one against his legislation. The number one issue is healthcare, and that is making sure Americans still have healthcare coverage and that Obamacare is not dismantled.
BP: Democrats are not the majority in the House or the Senate. In the upcoming election in two years, because of your concerns and other representatives’ and senators’, do you think there will be an increased push to try to win the back the House or the Senate?
REP. BASS: Absolutely. There will definitely be an increased push.