U.S. Anti-Semitic Incidents Highest in 40 Years

When considered in total, the individual numbers in the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic activity build a framework for understanding the scope of the problem in the United States.

For example, take 2,017, the number of incidents in the United States in 2019 that met the ADL’s criteria as being anti-Semitic. That figure is 12 percent greater than the 2018 count and the highest since the ADL began its annual audit in 1979.

Within the audit released May 12 is a reported 6 percent increase in incidents of harassment, a 19 percent rise in vandalism, and 56 percent more physical assaults on Jews in this country — more than half of the assaults taking place in New York City.

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Head South and numbers 29 and 52, respectively, represent the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Georgia in 2019 and in the four-state region handled by the ADL regional office in Atlanta, which comprised Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In both cases, the numbers for Georgia and the four-state region were fractionally lower in 2019 than 2018.

Noticeably absent from the list of Georgia incidents was April 2019 events at Emory University, when pro-Palestinian activists posted mock eviction notices on doors in dormitories and at an off-campus residence as a protest against Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses.

“We categorize the mock eviction notices at Emory as anti-Israel political speech and those flyers didn’t include traditional anti-Semitic tropes,” Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Southern division, said May 12. “If they had included tropes or if they had targeted Jewish students directly, we would have included them, but the audit generally doesn’t include anti-Israel political activism. We do include anti-Israel content, just not political activism that doesn’t have anti-Semitic tropes or target Jewish students.”

On April 12, 2019, Emory president Claire Sterk issued a statement that included: “Although Jewish students were not singled out, they and their families justifiably felt targeted, given the world in which we live.”

Two days later, a statement issued by Padilla-Goodman called that response “a step in the right direction,” that still “falls short of what is needed . . . to make sure that anti-Semitism has no place at Emory moving forward.”

According to the ADL’s 2019 audit, there were 171 anti-Semitic incidents nationally that referenced Israel or Zionism, of which 68 “took the form of white supremacist groups’ propaganda efforts, which attempt to foment anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs. Most of the remaining incidents were expressions of anti-Israel animus that incorporated antisemitic imagery or harassment and demonization of Jewish students for their real or assumed connection to Israel.”

The ADL’s 2019 list of Georgia incidents included other incidents that “caused ripples in the Jewish community in Atlanta,” Padilla-Goodman said. Among those noted in the report were:

  • “Kill more Jews” written on a Jewish student’s dormitory room white board.
  • Swastikas drawn on a desk in a Jewish teacher’s classroom; on the exterior of a Jewish family’s home; spray-painted on the front of a public high school; and posted on a Jewish organization’s Instagram site.
  • Vandalism at the Waycross Hebrew Center in Waycross, Ga., that included broken windows, a fire extinguisher sprayed through the sanctuary, bottles of drinks and crackers strewn about, and the sterling silver topper to a menorah damaged.
  • Propaganda reading “Better dead than red” and “Reclaim America” distributed at a synagogue.

The ADL was contacted about more incidents in Georgia than the 29 that met the criteria for inclusion in the audit and even then, “We think that the numbers are pretty drastically underreported,” Padilla-Goodman said. “I think we have a lot to be concerned about.”

Two areas that stood out to Padilla-Goodman as she reviewed the 2019 report were the numbers of incidents reported at K-12 non-Jewish schools (411 nationally) and in public areas, frequent venues for vandalism (655 nationally).

The 29 anti-Semitic incidents in Georgia in 2019 compared with 30 in 2018, 58 in 2017, 43 in 2016, and 16 in 2015.

The 52 incidents in the four-state region in 2019 compared with 55 in 2018, 74 in 2017, 56 in 2016, and 26 in 2015.

While the types of incidents in the region were similar state-to-state, Padilla-Goodman noted that Tennessee has had “special issues with white supremacy,” having been host to numerous white supremacist events.

During an online news conference to release the report, ADL’s national executive director Jonathan Greenblatt referenced the February shooting of a 26-year-old African-American man near Brunswick, Ga., and said it was “insane” that Georgia and four other states (South Carolina, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Indiana) lack hate crime laws that specify categories of bias such as religion and race.

“The past few years have been the most challenging in recent memory,” Greenblatt said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a fresh platform for expressions of anti-Semitism.

“Violent anti-Semitism has become all too common place,” Greenblatt said, citing an ADL survey in which two-thirds of America Jews reported feeling less safe than a decade earlier and more than half of respondents reported experiencing or witnessing an anti-Semitic incident.

The ADL’s 2019 report highlighted three fatal incidents: A woman killed on April 27 when a white supremacist opened fire at the Chabad of Poway, California; the three people killed Dec. 10 in an attack on a Jewish grocery store in Jersey City, N.J.; and the Dec. 28 attacks on a Chanukah party at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, N.Y., by a knife-wielding man who killed one person and injured four.

In response to those incidents and others in a spate of attacks on Jews in New York and New Jersey late in 2019, a “Jewish Atlanta Solidarity Event” attended by 1,100 people was held Jan. 6, 2020, at the Byers Theatre at City Springs in Sandy Springs.

Originally published at https://atlantajewishtimes.timesofisrael.com on May 13, 2020.