A wave of antisemitic incidents is raising alarm in the country’s second- and third-largest Jewish communities.
Several synagogues in Los Angeles have received almost identical hate mail in recent weeks that has arrived in large manila envelopes addressed to “Jew child molesters” and “Jew murderers.” Hate-filled handwritten messages were scrawled across the envelopes in red ink, including claims that “Jews kidnap Mexican little girls” and rabbis are running a “sex slavery ring.”
The mailings also included the message: “Die, Jews, die!”
The Los Angeles mailings are the latest manifestation of a nationwide increase in antisemitic incidents that has reached its highest level in nine years, according to statistics compiled by the Anti-Defamation League and issued April 4. The group’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents reported 1,821 incidents in 2004, up from 1,557 in 2003. The audit compiled data from 44 states and the nation’s capital, using crime statistics and reports from the ADL’s regional offices.
The rise in incidents was most pronounced in New Jersey, where incidents rose to 297 from 209, in California, where they went up to 237 from 180, and in Florida, where incidents spiked to 173 from 102.
In response to the jump in Florida, Rep. Robert Wexler met April 18 with Art Teitelbaum, ADL’s southern area director, to examine the problem and explore potential solutions.
Speaking to the Forward after the meeting, Wexler, a Florida Democrat, called the spike in antisemitism a “growing, disturbing trend,” partly fostered by the Internet. “The use of the Internet to promote hate has gone from amateurish to very sophisticated efforts to trap and cultivate people — often young people with employment problems and family problems,” Wexler said. “The Internet allows easy facilitation of hate groups to form.”
He suggested that some legal steps might be needed to crack down on Internet hate, but offered no concrete suggestions.
“We have to balance First Amendment rights versus the right of safety and the right to live in a community without the fear of bigotry and antisemitism,” Wexler said.
“Currently that balance favors the perpetrators of hate,” he said. “We need to reevaluate what we can do on the Internet to prevent the hate crimes.”
In California, ADL officials said, the organization is helping local authorities, an FBI task force and the U.S. Postal Service investigate the hate mailings, which also contained derogatory messages about Chinese, Korean and Muslim people and included pictures and collages portraying these groups as spies, terrorists and weapons dealers.
“Somebody is so disturbed because this is so perverse,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL’s regional director in Southern California. “It’s horrifying.”
Phone calls from upset community members have been pouring into the ADL office, according to Susskind. But, she added, people should not be alarmed. “The letters are part of a mass mailing that doesn’t appear to be individually threatening anyone,” she said.
Rabbi Aaron Benson of Congregation Beth Meir in Studio City, Calif., said he did not feel threatened by the letter sent to his synagogue. “It contained what might be generously called a press release,” he said. “I would have to say this was written by someone of unsound mind — certainly not normal.”