We’re witnessing a new wave of antisemitic hate crimes. Here’s how we stop it.
In May, there’s been a terrifying surge in antisemitic hate crimes across the country. This is not just anecdotal, nor is it just a few isolated but well-publicized incidents in places like Los Angeles and New York. Rather, we have seen a torrent of incidents across the country in both small towns and major urban areas, from Jews being physically attacked and harassed in scenes coast to coast, to synagogues being desecrated in the Midwest, to antisemitic graffiti being scrawled in places as far flung as New Hampshire and Utah to Jewish stores being vandalized on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
At ADL, we have been tracking this type of data for decades and monitoring incidents since the outbreak of the conflict on May 10. Our preliminary data show that during the past two weeks, reports of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. increased by 75 percent, compared to the two weeks before the fighting began, from 127 to 222. Our staff has been scrambling to keep up with the influx of additional reports.
In “normal” times when there is no conflict or moment in time triggering such an increase in hate, it is hard for us to identify the impetus of such incidents of antisemitic harassment, assaults and vandalism. Often, we do not know or are unable to divine the motives of the perpetrators. Not this time.
Many of these incidents have taken place at or around the approximately 200 anti-Israel rallies held across the U.S. since May 16. Although many of the rallies remained peaceful and did not include antisemitic language, some speakers, signs and chants included messages that attacked Zionists or trafficked in hateful antisemitic tropes.
In the most striking example of this, on the evening of May 19, a number of men dressed in black and waving Palestinian flags drove up to a restaurant to carry out a premeditated attack on a group of Jewish diners on La Cienaga Boulevard, at the heart of Jewish Los Angeles.
These have also included brazen and brutal attacks in broad daylight in a number of major American cities. Aside from the attack in L.A., there were similar ones on the streets of South Florida, synagogues vandalized in Tucson, Arizona, and Skokie, Illinois, and we have seen repeated attacks in New York including a widely seen video of a Jewish man beaten by a gang in broad daylight — in Times Square. In Brooklyn over the weekend three men allegedly drove around Borough Park harassing and assaulting Jewish individuals, including teenagers. They yelled antisemitic slurs as well as “free Palestine,” and kicked a synagogue’s doors.
It should not even need to be said that there is ample space in public life for legitimate forms of criticism of the Jewish state as is the case with any other country. At ADL, we engage in such fact-based critiques on a regular basis.
But you cross the line when you demonize Israelis and Zionism; delegitimize the Jewish state and its very existence; and hold Israel to double standards in comparison to other countries. This happens far too often, particularly in recent weeks as many people in positions of authority made exaggerated claims, levelled unhinged charges and spread conspiracies about Israel.
In light of such irresponsible behaviour and reckless slander, should anyone be surprised when assaults and violence follows? When you blame, scapegoat, target and attack Jews or Jewish institutions to air your grievances, that is not protesting. That is not activism. That is antisemitism.
This is part of two disturbing patterns that we will highlight and seek to combat in our national Antisemitism Day of Action on Thursday, May 27. First is the immediate blaming of American Jews for the actions of Israel: when Jewish individuals and institutions are attacked or targeted for no other reason than their religion.
The second pattern is the increasing demonization of Jews through social media. The tsunami of online abuse has been staggering. Each subsequent wave of trouble in the Middle East seems to spawn an ever greater wave of antisemitism. This is happening across mainstream platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. We are also seeing a spike in antisemitism on fringe hate-filled platforms like 4chan. This hatred will not likely cease just because the rockets stop.
Middle schoolers trawling TikTok for dance videos are being told that Jews are criminals. Irresponsible influencers are tweeting that the recognition of Israel’s right to exist is “inherently evil.” Our analysis of Twitter in the days following the recent outbreak of violence showed that at least 17,000 tweets used variations of the genocidal phrase, “Hitler was right” during the first week of rockets.
There should be no place for antisemitism online and there needs to be a cost to hate-posters and the platforms that facilitate it — these online actions have real world consequences where Jews are getting harmed.
Just as January 6 showed how social media conspiracy theories can explode into physical danger, this episode shows how online antisemitism translates into real-world attacks on Jews. And just as the past four years demonstrated how extremists exploit the silence of others, we now have a new breed of extremists who feel emboldened and whose hate must be confronted without equivocation or hesitation. Finally, just as we have asked partisans on the political right to speak out unequivocally against right-wing extremists who sought to harm Jews and other minorities, we now want to see partisans on the political left speak out unequivocally against left-wing extremists seeking to harm Jews and spread hate.
To prevent these attacks and turn the tide, we have called upon President Biden to oppose antisemitism through his words and his actions. He has a long history of speaking out on these issues; it has been a hallmark of his career in public life. But today this means not only using his office to denounce this racism, but also taking additional steps.
We want to see the President fill the vacant office of the White House Jewish liaison. We hope the Administration will work with Congress to increase the non-profit security grants program so we effectively can protect houses of worship. And we implore Secretary Blinken to appoint a Special Envoy at the State Department to monitor and combat global antisemitism.
But this is not an issue only for elected officials. We call on community activists, faith leaders, business executives, social media influencers, public figures and Americans across the board to speak out against antisemitism. Everyone must do their part to fight because, as others have said, antisemitism may start with the Jews but it never ends with them. Before this hatred spreads any further, let’s stop it in its tracks.
On Thursday as we hold our Day of Action Against Antisemitism, we ask you to stand alongside the Jewish community. Your participation matters as Jews face this wave of hate. America depends on you.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.