Lost in the headlines of the past two storm-ravaged and politically charged weeks was the news from the Anti-Defamation League that incidents of hate perpetrated against Jews declined, both locally and nationally, in 2011.
The organization’s latest audit of anti-Semitic incidents, with data culled from law-enforcement and other sources for many months after the close of the calendar year, shows a 13 percent drop nationally, with smaller drop of just under 5 percent here in the Empire State.
The national figure is the lowest in two decades of surveys, says the ADL.
It’s worth noting, however, that beginning with last year’s survey, the group stopped classifying acts of swastika vandalism as automatic anti-Semitic attacks, recognizing that it is often a generalized symbol of hate or protest, sometimes directed at non-Jews. Removing such acts from the tally may account for some of the recent decrease.
Moreover, the overall rosy picture of fewer incidents of all types should not obfuscate the alarming rise nationally in acts of vandalism against Jews, from 317 to 330, including the scrawling of “triple the six million” and other messages at a high school in Calabasas, Calif.
Reported physical assaults nationwide were down slightly, from 22 in 2010 to 19, but that should not detract from the disturbing nature of the attacks, including one by a woman at a bank in Brooklyn who punched a Jewish man, spat on him and called him “f—ing Jew;” or one in Newtown, Conn., in which four thugs chased a Jewish kid from a party and called him a “Jew bastard” before throwing him to the ground and kicking him.
Since Jews have historically been the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to hate in a society, we should see the report as a positive sign that even as economic hardship endures fewer Americans appear to be pulled into scapegoating and intolerance.
On the other hand, the audit is just one tool in taking the temperature of hate, and crimes that do not result in injury or major financial loss tend to be underreported. All the more reason to mix hopefulness with a healthy dose of vigilance.