Anti-Semitic assaults in New York state rose 55 percent last year and represented nearly half of all such recorded attacks nationally, the latest figures released by the Anti-Defamation League revealed Tuesday.
According to the organization’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, published three days after the deadly shooting at Chabad of Poway in California, the New York state numbers are part of a national trend: Violent attacks against the Jewish community in the United States in general doubled last year, even though overall incidents — including vandalism and harassment — decreased 5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.
The ADL’s New York and New Jersey regional director, Evan Bernstein, described the increase in assaults as “staggering.”
In addition, all reported New York state assaults took place within the five boroughs of New York City, with the vast majority — 13 out of 17 — occurring in Brooklyn. The ADL called the borough a “hot spot for anti-Semitic activity.”
“If you look at what the numbers from the NYPD are so far from the first quarter of this year, that trends looks like it’s continuing into 2019,” Bernstein told Haaretz.
Between January 1 and February 13 this year, a total of 32 anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, compared to 17 during the same period in 2018 — an 88 percent increase.
One of the most violent attacks was on a 22-year-old Hasidic student who was punched in the face while talking on the phone in Crown Heights in January. And last October, a Hasidic man in his 60s was beaten to the ground in broad daylight in Borough Park.
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In addition to the 17 assaults, the total data for New York state in 2018 showed 212 incidents of vandalism and 111 incidents of harassment.
Much of the vandalism took place in public areas, including parks, public transit, sidewalks and playgrounds.
“No one should ever have to live in fear of being violently attacked, physically harmed or verbally harassed simply because of their culture or faith,” Bernstein said. “We must continue to denounce these horrific attacks and work together to create safe communities for all New Yorkers.”
According to ADL data, a substantial increase in anti-Semitic occurrences was recorded in the fourth quarter of 2018, after the October 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh — the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
The audit states there were 72 anti-Semitic incidents reported across New York state in the proceeding 30 days, and that 31 percent of all New York state incidents for 2018 took place in the two months between the shooting and the end of the year.
Bernstein said the Pittsburgh attack may have motivated people to report occurences of anti-Semitism. “A lot of them felt they needed to speak out because of what happened, and they maybe wouldn't have done that before” the mass shooting, he said.
Underreporting does remain a challenge in many communities as victims are often reluctant to come forward, the ADL report said.
In addition, the report stated there is significant underreporting of hate crimes from local law enforcement officials to the FBI, particularly in places where such reporting remains voluntary.
“In 2017, the city of Buffalo, with a population of more than 200,000, reported only eight hate crimes, none of which were anti-Semitic in nature,” the ADL cited as an example.
“It’s still the prerogative of the police if they make a report or not,” Borough Park native Alexander Rapaport, who runs the Masbia soup kitchen in Brooklyn and Queens, told Haaretz. “My personal belief is that this has been going on all the time and the police are somehow more open to filing reports [now] and take matters of this nature more seriously and file them away in a way that reflects a hate crime,” he said.
“That wasn’t the case a couple of years ago, so that’s part of the increase that we see,” he added.
The ADL’s Bernstein said that trust in law enforcement is also key for those trying to decide whether to report a hate crime or not.
“When I talk to members of the Brooklyn community who have experienced this large number of assaults and incidents, the [vast] majority feel very happy with what the NYPD is doing and the support that the NYPD is giving them. I think that allows for a better reporting process,” he said.
According to the ADL report, some of the recorded occurrences can be attributed to an active presence of white supremacist groups in New York state. The groups use flyers to spread their messages. In 2018, ADL documented 67 incidents of white supremacist propaganda being distributed in New York state, 10 of which were anti-Semitic in nature.
“Most of this activity is taking place outside the city.” Bernstein said. He added that he experienced such hate himself a few years ago when he received a death threat from upstate New York.
The author of the threat “bought weapons from an undercover FBI agent to kill me,” Bernstein said, noting that the man had been radicalized. “He wasn’t somebody who was part of any white supremacy group. So the fear is that this kind of flyering actually makes an impact.
“It allows for these lone wolves to feel there are other people who are like-minded in the community or even further out,” he continued. “What you saw in San Diego, what you saw in Pittsburgh, are these people that attach themselves on these platforms to people who are not even in their own community. It’s become kind of a global extremist community.”
At a national level, 249 anti-Semitic incidents were attributable to extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideologies — the highest level of such incidents documented by ADL since 2004.
The most active groups in New York state last year were Identity Evropa, Patriot Front, Loyal White Knights and Daily Stormer Book Clubs.
“When we see numbers and statistics of anti-Semitism, we should not think about revenge or prosecution,” said Rapaport. “We need to figure out a way to spread love and coexistence, and tolerance.
“It’s important that when statistics are put out, there is something other than just thinking of increasing jail time” for hate crimes, added Rapaport. “Other things need to be thought out as well; other ways to bring down hate need to be part of the equation.”
In light of the new numbers, the ADL said it urged public officials and civic leaders to use their platforms to speak out against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate. The organization also reiterated the importance of education, calling on the U.S. Department of Education to promote anti-bias and bullying prevention programs in elementary and secondary schools.
“Anti-Semitism is complicated and it’s not necessarily any one type of person that is anti-Semitic,” Bernstein explained. “There is anti-Semitism on the left, there is anti-Semitism on the right, there is anti-Semitism in the middle.
“We as a collective Jewish community need to do everything in our power to fight back on anti-Semitism in all corners of the political and social spectrum, and we cannot shelter ourselves off anymore.” he concluded.
Yaacov Behrman, a Jewish community activist in Crown Heights, warned that the increase in anti-Semitic attacks “demonstrates that when you have people preaching hate, eventually it leads to violence. It’s bound to happen. Words matter. How we talk and who we stand with and who we associate with matters. There is more violence, and all that means is that words are turning into action — which is very scary.”
Behrman related that a rabbi in Manhattan reported to police he had been verbally assaulted on Tuesday. “I believe what happened in California played a role in his reporting, because there is a sense of awareness and he realized that words matter,” said Behrman. “If it was five years ago, I doubt he would’ve reported it. So it’s true that after something major happens — a major tragedy or an attack — people are more alert and are reporting more incidents.”