At first glance, the just-released Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) audit on anti-Semitism in New Jersey appears to offer good news. After all, while most of the country appears to be experiencing an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, the Garden State’s numbers are largely stationary and consistent with those from last year.
But that would seem to be a case of missing the forest for the trees.
“The focus should be on the fact that the numbers in New Jersey are still high,” said Doron Horowitz, senior national security adviser at the Secure Community Network, a consulting agency to major organizations in the Jewish community. Moreover, he told NJJN, bias attacks against Jewish communities and institutions “far exceed” those of other ethnic and religious groups.
In contrast to the rising numbers of hate crimes in other Jewish communities throughout the U.S., Joshua Cohen, director of ADL’s New Jersey regional office, said the sum of anti-Jewish expressions in NJ during 2017 “remains at similar levels” to those in the first three quarters of 2016. That said, “the numbers for the first three-quarters of 2017 are still high.”
According to the ADL audit that was released last week, there were 52 anti-Semitic incidents across New Jersey between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30. Between 2015 and 2016, anti-Semitic attacks in the state rose by 15 percent, from 137 to 157. In those years New Jersey had the third highest number of incidents in the nation, behind only the populous states of New York and California.
According to the ADL, there were 1,299 anti-Semitic incidents across the country, a 67 percent increase over the same period in 2016. The number of occurrences in the first nine months of 2017 was higher than the 1,266 incidents reported for all of 2016. Incidents in New York state, in particular, rose by 96 percent between 2016 and 2017. (The significance of the figures in this report is mitigated somewhat because the numbers reflect the dozens of bomb threat calls to JCCs last year; some of them were hoaxes perpetrated by one 19-year-old Israeli man believed to have psychological problems.)
The country’s increased incidents, as well as NJ’s stagnant, but still troubling numbers, indicate “we have a lot more work to do expending our resources to targeted communities to deal with the pernicious problem of anti-Semitism,” said Cohen.
A common theory for the increase in anti-Semitism is that President Donald Trump’s rhetoric has empowered white nationalists, but it’s unclear if there is a correlation.
“What we have seen, whether it is a direct or indirect result of the 2016 election, there has been a spike in white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and alt-right movements,” Horowitz said. “For whatever reasons, they have felt emboldened, but I can’t speculate as to why.”
Others speculate that, whether intended or not, the overt racism is a product of the political climate. The ADL audit noted “a distinct increase” of incidents after August’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., when James Alex Field, a white nationalist, drove his car into a car of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others.
“Anti-Semitism is becoming politicized by people whose grievances are being stirred up, and are discontented about everything,” David Bossman, professor in Jewish-Christian Studies and executive director of the Sister Rose Thering Fund at Seton Hall University in South Orange, told NJJN. “Rather than working together effectively to remediate the problems of society, people have simply turned to their grievances and want to fight everything they can see in sight.”
Added Bossman, a Catholic friar, “I wonder whether these people even know Jews or anything about them. I think it is just a vehicle for expressing protest or grievance.”
Of the 28 instances of harassment and 24 cases of vandalism in New Jersey, 12 took place in K-12 schools, six on college campuses.
The principal “targeted community,” Cohen said, “were public schools with anti-Semitic bullying, predominantly in middle and high schools.” Such bullying should prompt educators to “have increased awareness of the issue and work to root it out among our youth.”
Among the incidents in or around schools:
• On March 1, students found a drawing of Hitler, a swastika, and the words “Kill all the Jews” and “Hail Hitler” written on a desk at Churchill Junior High School in East Brunswick.
• On April 13 in Manalapan, anti-Semitic graffiti, including a swastika, was scrawled on the grounds of the Clark Mills Elementary School.
• On May 1, a note was left on a Jewish student’s desk with a swastika and the letters “KYS,” an acronym for “Kill Yourself,” at Dag Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick. Two weeks later, a note with a swastika and the words “white is Supreme” was found at the school.
• During the week of June 18, anti-Semitic and racist graffiti and swastikas were sprayed on a playground at the Lincoln Elementary School in Caldwell.
Other incidents in schools included East Brunswick students throwing pennies at Jewish students — a reference to the stereotype of Jews being stingy — and a boy who was taunted on a school bus and called a “dumb Jew.” In addition, there were several reports of Muslim students who were verbally attacked in hallways, Latino students were called “illegals,” and some students posted photos of themselves in blackface on Instagram.
Non-school related incidents include:
• In February swastikas were spray painted on a pedestrian bridge in the South Mountain Reservation.
• A rash of anti-Semitic graffiti in East Brunswick between March and June, coupled with slurs against African-Americans, gays, Latinos, and Muslims
• A banner with the words “(((Heebs))) will not divide us,” — the double parentheses is an anti-Semitic symbol to highlight Jewish names — and a listing of a white supremacist website was hung at Congregation Sons of Israel in Lakewood in July.
• In September, graffiti showing the words “Kill the Jews” and “Heil Hitler,” Nazi lightning bolts, swastikas, and other epithets were found by employees spray-painted on the outside of the Airport Diner in Wantage. The workers also discovered the initials “WPWW,” an acronym for “White Power World Wide” and “14/88” — a reference to the 14-word skinhead slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” As H is the eighth letter in the alphabet, 88 represents HH, which stands for “Heil Hitler.”
Reflecting on the NJ statistics, Cohen offered a sobering thought:
“We know that for every incident that takes place a number go unreported.”