A heart-shaped American flag above the words “Hate Has No Home Here” in six languages — English, Urdu, Hebrew, Korean, Arabic, and Spanish — adorns a lawn sign in front of Lincoln Elementary School in Caldwell, where anti-Semitic and racist graffiti and swastikas were sprayed on a playground during the week of June 18.
“Whenever you put a swastika anywhere — on a synagogue or a school — you are trying to do two things: damage public property and deliver a message of hate. That’s what the intent of these vandals is,” said Joshua Cohen, New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Police are still hunting for those who defaced the playground.
While many such perpetrators are never caught, some are, Cohen said, such as several juvenile offenders who in April defaced Manalapan’s Clark Mills school property with a swastika and anti-Semitic writing. They were arrested in June.
“It was done by using modern police techniques, taking interviews, working with local businesses, and, in this case, using security camera footage,” he told NJJN.
According to ADL’s Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, New Jersey experienced 157 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, 30 more than in 2015. There have been 24 such incidents in the first four months of 2017.
NJJN recently reported on several anti-Semitic and other racially motivated incidents that have taken place in East Brunswick schools over the last few months. In June an anti-Semitic message was scrawled on playground equipment at the Lawrence Brook Elementary School, and in a separate incident, the N-word was found on a playground slide.
Authorities now think both acts of vandalism — as well as another from March in which a drawing of Hitler and a swastika, and the words “Kill all the Jews” and “Hail Hitler” were found on a desk at Churchill Junior High School — were committed by the same student. The individual may be part of a small group of students responsible for many other homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic incidents in district schools.
“We cannot deny the acrimony of the presidential campaign of 2016 and what it has done to civility in politics across the country, and its impact on our society,” Cohen said. “There are a number of individuals over the years whom the ADL had done an amazing job to push to the fringe of society.” He called anti-Semitic and racist behavior “not normal. We have delegitimized it but now, because of the political climate, there are a number of individuals who feel emboldened to say and do things they wouldn’t have done maybe a year and a half or two years ago.”
Cohen called on people “to never be a bystander,” to be an “upstander,” by alerting the police and the ADL if such assaults are witnessed.
“When there is an attack on the Jewish community it is an attack on the entire community,” he said. “It is incumbent upon elected leaders, business leaders, and religious leaders to stand up and speak with on unified voice that New Jersey is no place for hate and we will not tolerate this. We will call out the incident for what it is — whether it is anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, or bigotry.”