Anti-Semitic incidents in New Jersey declined last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of incidents.
But state ADL director Etzion Neuer warned that New Jersey still ranks number three in the nation in slurs and attacks on Jews, trailing only California and New York.
According to the audit, released July 27, there were 132 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2009 in New Jersey. They included 53 incidents of vandalism, 77 incidents of harassment, and two physical assaults on Jewish individuals.
The number would seem to suggest a dramatic decline from the 238 anti-Semitic incidents in 2008. But Neuer noted that the 2009 audit represents “a much more conservative approach to the way we tabulated graffiti.”
Nationally, the ADL reported 1,211 incidents, representing a 10 percent decline from the 1,352 incidents reported in 2008.
Like the state’s audit, it eliminated some swastika appearances as anti-Semitic expressions.
The ADL’s new tabulation “recognizes that the swastika is no longer used exclusively as a hate symbol against Jews. Today it regularly appears in vandalism incidents directed against African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities,” Neuer said. “It tends to be used by juveniles who are just doing it for its shock value. If a swastika appeared on a park bench in an area with a negligible Jewish population, it would not be considered anti-Semitic.”
But even when swastikas are deliberately aimed at offending Jews, “not all of the incidents are created equal,” Neuer said. “A small swastika scratched into a park bench in the middle of nowhere is not going to have the same effect as the enormous swastika and the word ‘JEWS’ spray-painted last year on a wall near the Somerville train station.”
More severe were the two cases that occurred on the High Holy Days. One occurred on the second night of Rosh Hashana, when a 16-year-old student at Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva in Edison suffered a concussion after being taunted and jumped by a group of teenagers.
A week later, on Yom Kippur, a young man drove by three Jews walking home from synagogue in Highland Park and greeted them with a Nazi salute and a shouted “Heil Hitler.”
In both instances, teenagers were arrested for the bias attacks.
While Neuer considers such offenses “very disturbing,” he said “not every anti-Semitic incident is a crime. Particularly in schools, children may say anti-Semitic things to one another.”
Although his organization has not compiled statistics on the ages of perpetrators, “a bias incident is most likely to occur in a public school building, and we continue to see a troubling rate of incidents at schools,” he said.
One common form of torment is known as “penny pitching.” Neuer said he fields calls from “despondent parents. Their children are walking in the hall and a kid throws pennies at them and says, ‘Hey, Jew, pick up the pennies.’ They are playing on an old vicious stereotype.”
According to Neuer, “one reason New Jersey is at the top of the list is because New Jersey has a high Jewish population, and we are going to find more incidents reported in areas with bigger Jewish populations.”
Anti-Semitism reflects “the ambivalence of life here,” he said. “On one hand we have a very strong Jewish population that is by and large comfortable. We have tremendous freedoms here. Most Jews in New Jersey are able to be as religious or irreligious as they choose to be.
“Yet at the same time there are far too many anti-Semitic incidents that take place. There are bigots who are racists and anti-Semites and choose to act out their anti-Semitism.”
Nationally, the incidents include 29 physical assaults on Jewish individuals, 760 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment and threats, and 422 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, according to the report.
Major national incidents included the shooting attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, by an avowed Holocaust denier, which led to the death of a security guard; a thwarted plot by four Muslim converts to bomb synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx; and the repeated picketing of institutions and community centers, including institutions in West Orange and New Brunswick, by members of the avowedly anti-Semitic, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.
The states with the highest number of incidents were California, with 275 incidents; New York, 209; New Jersey, 132; and Florida, 90.
The audit noted that 2009 was marked by a severe intensification of anti-Semitic expression on the Internet, including a significant increase in the amount of anti-Semitism found on on-line social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and user-generated content sites such as YouTube.
JTA contributed to this report.