A disturbing “new normal” — rising levels of anti-Semitism in New York and New Jersey — seems to be stubbornly settling in, one that experts tie to “the divisive state of our national discourse.”
That’s one of the main takeaways from the Anti-Defamation League’s 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, which was released this week.
It found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents soared by more than 90 percent in 2017 compared to the year before. There were 380 incidents of anti-Semitism reported in New York State in 2017, including physical assaults, vandalism, harassment and attacks on Jewish institutions, according to the ADL, compared to 199 such incidents in 2016.
“New Yorkers are seeing an undeniable surge of anti-Semitism and bigotry that we all must confront,” said Evan R. Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director. “The dramatic increase in harassment, school related incidents and against religious institutions cannot be accepted as a ‘new normal.’ This kind of hate hurts the victim and deeply impacts the Jewish community; we must remain vigilant in denouncing and exposing hate wherever it emerges. We know that when anti-Semitism is on the rise, so, too, are other forms of hate.”
Among the 380 incidents reported in 2017 in New York State there were: 236 incidents of vandalism, up 61.6 percent from 2016; 133 incidents of harassment, including 24 bomb threats against Jewish institutions, up from 29 in 2016 and 11 incidents of assault, down 42 percent from 19 in 2016.
New York also saw a doubling of incidents in K-12 schools from 18 in 2016 to 36 in 2017, as well as a 130 percent of such incidents increase on college campuses.
New York City experienced the most substantial increase in anti-Semitic acts, with 234 incidents reported, an increase of over 90 percent compared to 2016. Manhattan had the most incidents, 99, followed by Brooklyn with 80. Together, the two boroughs bore roughly three quarters of all the incidents in the city. Queens saw the largest increase in incidents compared to 2016, rising from 11 to 39. The Bronx had 9 incidents, Staten Island had 7, Long Island had 62, Westchester had 18, Rockland County had 12 and the rest of the state had 54, according to the report.
The situation across the river in New Jersey isn’t much better.
At Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus, Jewish students demanded the firing of Michael Chikindas, a tenured microbiology professor, after he posted anti-Semitic cartoons and statements on his Facebook page. His situation is under review by the administration.
An Egyptian-born imam at a Jersey City mosque is receiving counseling and reeducation after delivering sermons in which he called Jews “apes and pigs” and urged people to “kill them down to the very last one.”
A banner hung outside the Holocaust Memorial in Lakewood read “(((HEEBS))) WILL NOT DIVIDE US.”
These are but a few of the 208 bias offenses targeting New Jersey Jews last year, a jump of 32 percent from 2016, according to the new audit. The ADL’s numbers indicate that New Jersey is the third-highest state in the nation for anti-Semitic activity after New York and California, which had 268.
Moreover, the annual audit, released this week, suggests that for the third consecutive year, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Garden State.
“The current statistics confirm what we all thought last year: that anti-Semitism did surge,” in N.J., said Joshua Cohen, regional director of the ADL’s New Jersey office.
Cohen attributed much of the increase to “the failure of some leaders to forcefully condemn the forces of anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred” — he did not refer to anyone by name — and “the increase of far-right-extremists.”
Without mentioning some locations and details due to security concerns, the ADL said the anti-Jewish activities included three physical assaults, the same number as in 2016. There were 110 acts of vandalism, up from 81, and attacks on institutions; 95 cases of harassment, a jump of 73 from the previous year; and 110 acts of vandalism, up from 81 in 2016.
Especially troubling was the increase in incidents in schools and colleges throughout N.J., the 61 occurrences in 2017 more than double the 29 from the year before. In fact, school-related acts of anti-Semitism represent nearly a third of the total incidents in the state.
A white supremacist hate group called Vanguard America, which claims 200 members in 20 states including New Jersey, has posted racist and anti-Jewish fliers at Rutgers and Princeton Universities.
At one middle school, Jewish students were told to “burn in Hitler’s EZ Bake Oven.” At another, anti-Semitic youngsters created a chat room they called “Kill All Jews.” At a third school, riders on a school bus were recorded on camera singing happy birthday to Hitler.
In Mahwah, vandals destroyed an eruv on three separate occasions.
Throughout the state, swastikas have been painted on many walls and fences.
To Cohen, “anti-Semitism is like the canary in the coal mine. When there is a rise in anti-Semitic incidents there is also a rise in attacks on other minority communities.”
Nationally, there were 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents reported across the United States in 2017, representing a 57 percent increase over the 1,267 incidents in 2016.
Those statistics, the highest level since the record year of 1994, were explained in stark terms by Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, and George Selim, the organization’s senior vice president of programs
In a conference call on Tuesday, he blamed part of the increase on “the divisive state of our national discourse, which has contributed broadly to the diminishment of civility in society.”
That, said Greenblatt, leads to “hate groups and white supremacists feel[ling] emboldened and more frequently taking action in public and on social media.”
He lamented that candidates affiliated with the alt-right are openly running for Congress.
“Public figures have a responsibility to play when there are acts of hate,” said Greenblatt. “If you ask me whether it’s the PTA president or a university president or a company president or the president of the United States, people in positions of authority have an obligation to use that authority to represent our shared values of diversity and respect and tolerance. When they don’t reinforce those values, bad ideas can fill the vacuum.”
He said “the presidential Twitter account is retweeting memes developed by some of the worst segments of society” and “prejudicial language emanating from segments of the alt-right are finding their way into commonplace political conversation. … Strands of intolerance have moved from the shadows to seep into the mainstream and they are not being called out by people at the highest levels of authority.”
The president’s retweeting of white supremacist and anti-Semitic memes during the campaign and more recently sharing racist tweets “are alarming. These tweets have emboldened and given encouragement to the worst anti-Semites and bigots.”
Neither side of the ideological spectrum “is exempt from intolerance” and “neither political party has a monopoly on morality.” But, he said, “we need our president and all elected officials to speak up.”
Following Greenblatt on the conference call, George Selim, ADL’s senior vice president for programs, said most of the 86 percent increase of anti-Semitic expression at colleges — a total of 204 incidents — were not related to the heated conflicts over Israel on many campuses. But he called on the federal Departments of Justice and Education to investigate whether anti-Israel activity “crosses the line” into discrimination against Jews on campus. He also called on faculty and administration members receive training on coping with hate crimes.
He advocated legislation to outlaw bomb threats against religious institutions, and legislators on both sides of the aisle to denounce “anti-Semitic incidents and all acts of hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia.”