How Real Is the Latest Surge in anti-Semitism Reported by the ADL?

Anti-Semitic incidents surged since U.S. election, ADL says, but many are linked to Jewish JCC bomb hoaxer

A Hasidic man walks through a Jewish Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn on April 24, 2017 in New York City.
SPENCER PLATT/AFP

Most of the spike in anti-Semitism in the United States in the first quarter of 2017, according to an analysis of data published in the latest Anti-Defamation League report on anti-Semitism, stems from an unusually large number of bomb threats carried against Jewish-American institutions – most of them believed by a Jewish American-Israeli teenager charged on Monday in a Tel Aviv court. 

According to the ADL report, published on Monday, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged by 86 percent in January-March 2017, compared with the same period last year. But if the bomb threats are removed this calculation, it turns out that the quarter-on-quarter increase was only 30 percent. That would indicate a slowdown from 2016, when the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose by 34 percent compared with the previous year.

Organizations and observers who track anti-Semitism have been uncertain about how to address the hundreds of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the United States and elsewhere that the American-Israeli teenager is suspected of having perpetrated. Before he was caught last month, it had been assumed that the culprits were either neo-Nazi white supremacists or Israel- or Jew-hating Muslims. Before the identity of the key suspect was revealed, President Donald Trump had suggested that the purpose of the bomb threats could be to make others “look bad.”

The ADL report also found that since the beginning of 2016, the number of physical assaults against Jews has been steadily dropping and that anti-Semitism on American college campuses has shown no increase whatsoever. The college campuses had in past years been considered a hotbed for anti-Semitic activity. 

The ADL report, known as its Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, tracks criminal and non-criminal acts of harassment and intimidation, including distribution of hate propaganda, threats and slurs. It also monitors acts of physical assault and vandalism targeting Jews and Jewish institutions. The report incorporates information from victims, law enforcement officials and community leaders. 

The 380 incidents of harassment reported in the first quarter of this year (representing an increase of 127 percent over the same quarter last year) included 161 bomb threats. The first-quarter figures also include 155 incidents of vandalism, representing an increase of 36 percent.  Yet, the number of physical assaults against Jews was down 40 percent in the quarter, with six incidents reported in the entire United States.

In 2016, a total of 720 incidents of harassment were reported, up 41 percent over the previous year. Another 510 incidents of vandalism reported, up 35 percent from the previous. By contrast, acts of physical assault were down 35 percent, with 36 incidents reported. According to the report, much of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016 was concentrated in the last two months of the year.

The report noted that 36 of the total number of anti-Semitic acts during the 15-month period were related to the presidential election. “What’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive at the ADL. “Clearly, we have work to do and need to bring more urgency to the fight.“

While incidents of anti-Semitism on college campuses were flat, the report said, the number of acts of bullying and vandalism directed against Jews attending public schools was up sharply in 2016 and the first quarter of 2017. “Schools are a microcosm of the country,” said Greenblatt. “Children absorb messages from their parents and the media, and bring them into their schools and playgrounds. We are very concerned the next generation is internalizing messages of intolerance and bigotry.”

The reported noted that the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents, in both 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, were reported in states with relatively large Jewish populations: California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts.