Anti-Semitic incidents made up the largest share of New York hate crimes reported in 2009, according to statistics just released by the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. The number of incidents involving Jewish victims also rose 15 percent from 219 in 2008 to 254.
Statistics for 2010 have not yet been compiled by the division. The 2009 annual report, required by state law, was issued late because of rigorous fact-checking, a spokesman said.
"We have had some problems with the reporting of hate crimes in the past and, consequently, there is a lengthy verification process," said John Caher, director of public information at DCJS. "If something looks wrong, we go back to the law enforcement agency to double check and verify."
Attacks against Jews amounted to 37 percent of the total, more than anti-black incidents (21 percent), attacks against gay men (12 percent) or attacks against Hispanics (6 percent) in a hateful year that saw a 14 percent increase in all bias incidents in the state, from 599 to 683.
The state’s Jewish number is higher than that of the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of incidents here, based on complaints to the organization, which showed 209 incidents. That year the agency decided to change its definition of anti-Semitic incidents to those specifically targeting Jews rather than including swastikas that defaced general targets.
The state figures did not break down the types of crimes directed at each group, but did list 39 swastika incidents, slightly down from 43 in 2008. The number of aggravated harassment incidents described as physical contact due to race or religion more than doubled, from 41 to 83.
The report was released as word spread this weekend of a series of threats mailed to New York City synagogues. A letter believed to originate from the same sender arrived by mail and warned of an attack on New Year’s Eve that did not materialize. Congregation Ohab Tzedek in Manhattan received one of the letters, its rabbi, Allen Schwartz, told the New York Post.
The letters are being investigated by the New York Police Department. David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the group’s liaison with police on security issues declined to disclose the contents of the letters to avoid inspiring copycat acts. But he said the letter was printed with the same typeface in all instances and had similar messages with different names signed.
“There is no reason to think this was an international group,” Pollock said Monday.
He added that the spike in anti-Semitic incidents shown in the state report was likely a result of anti-Zionism as well as the recession.
“I think the international vilification of Israel grants permission to carry out anti-Semitic acts,” said Pollock.
Ron Meier, director of the ADL’s New York region, said that while the data “point to how diligent the Jewish community and law enforcement community have to be” the “silver lining” is that more police departments are compiling and reporting statistics to the division of criminal justice as required by the state’s Hate Crimes Act of 2000.
“In 2008 hate crimes were reported by 35 counties, and in 2009 43 of the 62 counties reported them,” said Meier. “We are moving toward full compliance.
The ADL offers tolerance-training programs in public schools in response to bias attacks of any kind. Meier said that the “long-term trend” over the last decade shows fewer bias attacks than in previous years, but said the recent spike in such crimes, despite harsher penalties for them was perplexing.
“One piece of the puzzle is the times we are living in,” he said. “These are very difficult economic times, which causes all kinds of dislocation, which in its own way causes tensions and points of friction.”
In one of the most serious recent hate crimes against Jews, last month two teenage boys, 14 and 15, were arrested and charged with serious beating attacks against chasidic men in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. One attack left the victim, Joel Weinberger, 26, with a broken jaw, broken leg and facial injuries. Pollock said the two suspects in that case, who were apprehended after a chase following one attack and, police said, confessed to other attacks on Jews, remain in juvenile detention while awaiting trial after a judge refused to remand them to their parents.
Also last month, 200 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Flatbush, Brooklyn, were defaced or overturned.