JTA – A top security adviser to the US Jewish community accused the University of Arizona of ignoring anti-Semitism as a red flag in a case that culminated in the shooting of a professor.
“Professor Thomas Meixner lost his life because antisemitism is not taken seriously enough,” wrote Michael Masters, the CEO of the Secure Community Network, in an op-ed published Tuesday in the Arizona Republic.
Masters said the alleged attacker’s explicitly anti-Semitic threats should have been a red flag to campus police, who Masters said were not aggressively pursuing criminal charges, and to the Pima County Attorney’s Office, who did not press charges. The attacker in a text to a teacher wished “death to all Jews”.
“Overreported violent anti-Semitic threats like these are dismissed as a by-product of poor mental health and not treated with the necessary precautions,” Masters wrote. “More could and should have been done to prevent a senseless murder.”
The Masters’ Group coordinates security for Jewish organizations across the country.
Last week, authorities in New York City were alerted to an online post by someone who said he was “shooting a synagogue”; Police arrested the man who allegedly did the post, who had a gun, ammunition and a Nazi armband.
Previously, people who received training for the Security Community Network have credited him with mitigating attacks, including during the hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue last January.
Murad Dervish, the suspect in the Oct. 5 murder on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, believed Meixner was Jewish and targeted Dervish because he was Muslim, according to Meixner’s colleagues.
Dervish, a graduate student in the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, got a bad grade and was fired as a teaching assistant last semester, despite being allowed to remain at the school as an undergraduate.
Meixner, the department head, was Roman Catholic, but according to Eyad Atallah, another teacher whom Dervish threatened, Dervish refused to believe it.
“You are a dirty Kike lover who was deceived by them but I really can’t blame you, they are very deceptive,” Dervish said in a text message to Atallah, who had befriended him for a while.
In a text message to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Masters said Meixner’s murder shows how anti-Semitic violence inflicts collateral damage.
“We must take threats seriously – regardless of their motivation – and work to address them in a comprehensive and coordinated manner,” he said. “Had that been the case, one has to wonder if the victim would still be alive in this case and if we will learn the lesson to keep the next potential victims safe and alive.”
The university expelled Dervish and barred him from campus, but had no mechanisms in place to prevent him from entering the building.
Prosecutors said Dervish’s lyrics did not reach the level of an actionable threat. His threats “did not meet the evidentiary requirements to charge him with the crime of threats and intimidation,” the office said in a statement.
Atallah told the Arizona Daily Star that he believes Dervish carefully worded his lyrics so that he could plausibly claim that he was not directly threatening the person to whom they were addressed. In a text message to Atallah, Dervish said, “I hope someone blows your friggin’ brains out.”
Atallah, who donned a bulletproof vest after the threats and limited his time on campus, believes that if they had met on the day of the shooting, Dervish would have killed him too.
It’s not clear how Dervish, who has faced violent crime charges in other states and has been sentenced to prison terms, bought a gun. He has pleaded not guilty.