Aidan Kelley, 20, of Exeter was arraigned Friday in Newburyport District Court on a count of making annoying telephone calls/electronic messages. Newburyport police had also charged him with criminal harassment but a clerk magistrate at the court ruled there was not enough probable cause to sustain the charge and dropped it.
Kelley was released on personal recognizance and ordered not to contact Congregation Ahavas Achim and to stay away from the synagogue. He is due back in court April 1st for a pretrial hearing.
While local police say Kelley left three Israeli and antisemitic voicemail messages at the Washington Street synagogue last summer, Congregation Ahavas Achim leader Alex Matthews said Kelley left five messages between June and September.
“Leaving numerous, anonymous voicemails accusing all Jews of terrorism and murder is dangerous hate speech and needs to be condemned,” Matthews wrote in an email sent Sunday to members of the synagogue. “This represents the continuation of a disturbing trend that has grown since the most recent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians this past spring, in which the line between political discourse about Israel and blatant antisemitic rhetoric is erased.”
Also condemning the voice messages was the city’s Human Right Commission, which offered a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“The Human Rights Commission was sad to hear about the recent anti-Semitic and hateful messages that were left on the CAA office voicemail,” the commission wrote in an email. “However we were happy to hear that the Newburyport Police Department and other resources that CAA contacted were able to quickly identify the individual and help ensure the safety of the synagogue and its congregation. We continue to stand in support of our Jewish community and will continue to support CAA as we continue to stand against any kind of discrimination, bigotry, and hate in our community.”
Of the voice messages mentioned by local police, the first was recorded July 23 and declares that Palestine will be free and to stop killing Muslims and Christians. On Aug. 2, a second voice message calls Israel a “terrorist state” and “apartheid free Palestine.”
Both phone calls were immediately reported to police and by Aug. 5th, Newburyport police Officer Joshua Tierney had applied for a subpoena to examine phone subscriber information from a New Hampshire telephone number. The third message was recorded Sept. 9th and blames Israel for the killing of Iranian scientists. “Shame on Israel. Israel terrorists, assassin,” the message says, according to Tierney’s report.
By Sept. 21st, Tierney identified the subscriber as living in Exeter, New Hampshire, and having a secondary local contact. The records also showed Kelley to be the son of the subscriber. Tierney then visited Kelley’s Facebook page and found a photo of Kelley and another person standing in front of a sign that read “Free Palestine.”
A Facebook post Aug. 28th shows a photo of protesters holding up signs declaring former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a war criminal and demanding the end of U.S. aid to Israel.
Also on Sept. 21th, Tierney called Kelley and said he was investigating a series of suspicious telephone calls to Congregation Ahavas Achim and asked if he knew anything about them. Kelley denied knowing anything at first but when Tierney mentioned the Facebook posts and photos, Kelley reversed himself.
Kelley, Tierney added, was unable to justify the calls other than that he “was Catholic and politically passionate about issues related to Palestine. Mr. Kelley reiterated that he didn’t mean anything by it and it will not happen again.”
In a phone interview Monday, Matthews said the voice messages left him wondering why his synagogue was targeted when it was never mentioned in any of the calls and what Kelley’s motive was for leaving the hateful messages.
“That’s just really frustrating,” Matthews said.
Tierney’s report mentioned that Kelley’s mother once lived in Newburyport.
Although none of the messages mentioned in Tierney’s report reference Jewish people or use the word “Judaism,” Matthews said one of the messages refers to a “Jewish, supremacist occupation” making them antisemitic “without a doubt.”
Matthews praised local police for their investigation of the voice messages and for protecting the synagogue, calling them “very responsive.”