Surging anti-Semitic Incidents in U.S. Begin as Early as Kindergarten, ADL Finds

There have been spikes in the first quarter and after August’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

A swastika painted on an American flat in Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 14, 2017.
Terry Dixon / Grand Rapids Police Department via AP

NEW YORK — The number of anti-Semitic incidents in New York State this year has almost doubled over the same period in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League says, adding that bullying and vandalism in schools are starting as early as kindergarten.

Nationwide, the rise in the first nine months of the year was 67 percent, including spikes in the first quarter and during and immediately following August’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

That gathering was one of at least 33 white supremacist events in the United States this year, in addition to 188 incidents in which anti-Semites distributed leaflets, often on college campuses, the ADL said in a new report.

“It’s shocking,” Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director, told Haaretz. “Post-election it’s a new world, and people feel emboldened on many fronts to express their thoughts on Jews and minorities.” While every year there is anti-Semitic acting-out, the sheer number of events now “is a sea change from previous years.”

Across the United States there were 1,299 anti-Semitic incidents by the end of September, well above the 799 for all of last year, the ADL said, The number of incidents of bullying and vandalism in schools from kindergarten through 12th grade has already more than doubled this year over last, it said.

“We are astonished and horrified by the rise in anti-Semitic harassment, incidents and violence targeting our communities,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, said in a statement.

“While the tragedy in Charlottesville highlighted this trend, it was not an aberration. Every single day, white supremacists target members of the Jewish community — holding rallies in public, recruiting on college campuses, attacking journalists on social media, and even targeting young children.”

Too fast for press releases

Incidents have become so common that the ADL has stepped up the frequency of its audits of anti-Semitism, which it compiles in cooperation with law enforcement agencies, victims and community leaders. Since their start in 1979, these audits had been issued annually, but now with so many incidents to tally, they're coming twice a year.

In its count, the ADL includes criminal and noncriminal acts of harassment, intimidation, threats, slurs and the distribution of hate-filled propaganda.

Many of the incidents are taking place in schools — in 2017 they “more than doubled over the same period in 2016 (269, up from 130),” the ADL said. “Of those, 142 incidents of harassment and 114 incidents of vandalism were reported. On college campuses, a total of 118 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the first three quarters of 2017, compared to 74 in the same period of 2016 – an increase of 59 percent.”

This uptick is so severe in New York that the regional office no longer has time to issue a press release almost every time something occurs, Bernstein said, adding that “because of the volume of incidents, it’s impossible for us to do that at the same level. It becomes saturation.” Instead, his office tweets out updates.

Two-thirds of the dozen anti-Semitic assaults reported in the audit in this year’s first nine months happened in New York State, according to the ADL. There were 267 incidents overall in New York State through the end of September, which already surpassed the 199 for all of 2016.

While there are usually fewer incidents in other states than in New York, which is home to more Jews than any other part of the country, the disparity usually isn’t as dramatic as this year, Bernstein said. Last week in one roughly 24-hour period there were multiple anti-Semitic events in New York.

Leaflets with swastikas and “just say no to Jewish lies!” were posted at the campus of Cornell University in upstate Ithaca. At Binghamton University a swastika was found posted on a lounge window for the third time this month. And a pink swastika was painted on the door of Sutton Place Synagogue on Manhattan’s East Side.

West Side story

Yet for all the increase in the number of reported incidents, many go untallied.

Rachel C. was harassed last Saturday, for instance, as she and her husband walked home from a bar mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. At 96th Street and Broadway — in many ways the heart of the ethnically diverse but also heavily Jewish neighborhood — they were waiting for the stoplight to change when a small dog began nipping at her ankles.

Rachel, who asked that her real name not be used, turned around and glared at the dog’s owner. “The woman looked me in the eye and said ‘I can’t stand those rude Upper West Side Jews.’ I took a deep breath, looked back at her and said ‘did you really just say that?’ And she said ‘yes I did.’”

It left Rachel, a 40-something professional and mother, so stunned she didn’t know what to say. Growing up in central Florida, she said, “I’ve had many anti-Semitic things happen to me in my life, but I was not expecting this. The verbal public expression” of anti-Semitism “really stunned me,” she said, adding that she did not report it to the police or the ADL.

The ADL's Bernstein said such behavior meant his organization and others needed to redouble their educational programs against hate in schools and elsewhere.

“Hate is a learned behavior and it’s our job to try and turn the tide on this,” he said.

On Facebook that night, Rachel wrote, “You may want to think about what might happen if, God forbid, something like this happens to you — or to someone you love, or someone in your vicinity who you are moved to defend.

“Think about what you’d say,” she warned. “And be ready.”