Rising antisemitism since Hamas' terror attack in Israel is part of 'preexisting' trend: DHS

ByQuinn Owen and Luke Barr ABCNews logo
Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Rise in hate incidents in US
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said there has been an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab American communities across the United States.

A rise in antisemitism since Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel is part of "preexisting increase ... in the United States and around the world," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a Senate committee on Tuesday.

"Hamas terrorists horrifically attacked thousands of innocent men, women and children in Israel on Oct. 7, brutally murdering, wounding and taking hostages of all ages," Mayorkas said. "In the days and weeks since, we have responded to an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American communities and institutions across our country."

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday gathered security leaders to address a range of threats to the U.S., including those stemming from the Israel-Hamas war.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, appearing alongside Mayorkas, said the bureau also has its sights set on the Israel and Hamas conflict. Wray said there is no information to indicate Hamas "has the intent or capability to conduct operations inside the U.S., though we cannot, and do not, discount that possibility."

Federal law enforcement officials are sworn in before testifying during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Oct. 31, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

Mayorkas laid out resources and authorities that he believes his department needs from Congress and he urged lawmakers not to let them lapse in the coming weeks. For example, the Homeland Security office dedicated to stopping weapons of mass destruction faces a Dec. 21 expiration deadline.

"That would hinder our ability to detect biological and illicit nuclear material threats and safeguard against the use of AI in the development of biological weapons," Mayorkas said.

Wray, compared Hamas to the Islamic State group, saying the Hamas attacks "will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven't seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate [in the Middle East] several years ago."

But the director said the greatest terrorism threat to the U.S. is "posed by lone actors or small cells of individuals who typically radicalize violence online and who primarily use easily accessible weapons to attack soft targets."

These extremists "are often motivated and inspired by a mix of social or political, ideological and personal grievances against their targets," Wray said. Law enforcement in recent years has focused on potential targets for this violence, including members of U.S. government, houses of worship, retail locations and mass public gatherings.

MORE | Man arrested for disturbing, antisemitic threats to US senator stemming from Israel-Hamas conflict

The director reiterated security concerns about China, as he has since 2017, when he was sworn in as director. He also touched on the FBI's efforts to combat cyber threats and the nation's violent crime.

Immigration and border security became the subject of bipartisan lawmaker questioning at the hearing, with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin pressing Mayorkas on the historically high number of migrants at the southern border in recent years.

"Our job would be a lot easier if the broken immigration system was fixed," Mayorkas responded.

The secretary went on to explain the deportation process before Johnson grew frustrated and moved onto more questions.

"Senator, as you well know, when an individual is released they are released into immigration enforcement proceedings and are subject to removal if they do not have a legal basis to remain in the United States," Mayorkas said.

He later pointed to a "significant drop" in the number of migrants from Venezuela after the administration announced it would resume direct deportations of Venezuelan nationals.

Preliminary data shows a 20% decrease in migrant encounters along the southern border through the first two weeks of October, according to a DHS official.

The administration has said it is trying to balance swift border enforcement with delivering lawful humanitarian protections.