A Jewish human rights group that reported an anti-Semitic attack on Orthodox schoolchildren in Chicago on the anniversary of a Nazi pogrom was forced to defend its statements Friday after a city official denied the ambush was anti-Jewish in nature.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a global NGO dedicated to Holocaust research, originally issued a statement on Thursday describing a disturbing attack on school bus carrying youngsters from a Jewish academy in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on Wednesday.
“At one stop, four men jumped onto the bus, hurled anti-Semitic slurs, and performed the Heil Hitler salute at terrorized children,” the statement read. While the bus driver eventually forced the men from the bus, they absconded before police arrived.
Early reports by FOX32 said the group also threatened to harm a 12-year-old student, and the police were investigating the incident.
The alleged attack was doubly gut-wrenching for taking place on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a vicious pogrom carried out by Nazi forces against Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, and the Sudentenland in Nov. 1938. Hundreds of Jewish homes, business, and synagogues were destroyed in the wide-scale assault that killed at least 91 people.
“‘Many members of the Jewish community have family who lived through those horrors,’” Alison Pure Slovin, SWV Midwest Director, noted in group’s statement.
Just hours after the SWC reported the attack, however, Alderman Debra Silverstein of the city’s 50th Ward told The Chicago Tribune that she was notified by both police and the school that the incident was not an anti-Semitic act.
“Antisemitism is definitely on the rise, and our community is always on high alert,” Ald. Silverstein said. “It’s something that our community will not tolerate, and I hope this was not an antisemitic act. The reports that I’m hearing from the school and from police are that it was not.”
Despite Ald. Silverstein’s comments, Slovin told The Post in an email Friday morning that the SWC was standing by its initial report.
“When the Simon Wiesenthal Center went to press with the story and released the statement below, this was verified by two parents who filed police reports based on what their sons had experienced,” she explained. “In addition, the SWC spoke to two detectives and an officer in the police department who were investigating the students allegations. We were told this was a hate crime.
“Later in the day, the school released a statement refuting what the children had reported. The school is now saying that this was not an anti-Semitic incident.”
A similar clarification has been added to the SWC’s original statement published on their website. It is unclear which school the children attended, or if police are still investigating the reports; both the Chicago Police Department and Ald. Silverstein’s office did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for a comment.
The SWC’s statement comes amid a rash of anti-Semitic incidents across the country, as Jewish communities live in increasing fear of bigoted violence. Also on Thursday, The Post reported on an 18-year-old New Jersey man who was arrested for making threats against local synagogues.
Omar Alkattoul, of Sayreville, reportedly told federal prosecutors he was “a Muslim with so many regrets,” but that the anti-Jewish statements were “not one of them.” He now faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.