The Anti-Defamation League’s new methodology in tallying incidents involving swastikas came under fire from a German scholar speaking in Edison.
For its latest annual survey of anti-Semitic incidents, the ADL announced it would take a “more conservative approach” in counting incidents involving the Nazi symbol, reasoning that not every use of a swastika is meant to target Jews.
Dr. Clemens Heni, however, called the ADL’s decision “unfortunate” and “dangerous” and said it served to “downgrade” the swastika.
Heni, who studies anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, made his remarks during a program at Congregation Beth-El on Oct. 4.
Heni, who is not Jewish, spoke of neo-Nazis and right-wing groups both in the United States and Europe who see the swastika as a symbol of anti-Semitism. He said the ADL’s action “would have serious implications” around the world.
“The swastika is special and has a specific history that led to the Shoa,” said Heni, who had been in Manhattan the previous two days as part of the Journal of Anti-Semitism’s conference on Muslim anti-Semitism. “It is a bad situation.”
Heni isn’t the first the criticize the ADL’s decision; in September, ADL’s New Jersey regional director, Etzion Neuer, responded to other critics in an op-ed in New Jersey Jewish News.
“When we looked at the incidents that took place in New Jersey and across the country, we concluded that the swastika remains a powerful symbol of hate, but — interestingly — the swastika is not always used in targeting Jews,” he wrote. “The swastika has become, for some, a generalized symbol of hatred.”
Neuer noted that swastikas were used against gays and lesbians, Arabs, and others in incidents where the message was clearly not anti-Semitic.
“In considering the context of a swastika we must be clear: In no way is ADL minimizing the swastika as a hate symbol,” wrote Neuer. “The swastika is a hate symbol. What we are doing is making an effort to determine the likely target of this imagery.”
However, Heni, author of a forthcoming book on anti-Semitism, asked, “Is there any symbol more anti-Semitic in the world?”
He said the symbol remains alive as an anti-Jewish symbol among small bands of neo-Nazis in the United States and members of the growing neo-Nazi movement in Europe. Heni said he often sees swastikas on benches in Germany, and warned his audience not to discount anti-Semitism just because their venom was not directed specifically at Jews
“A person can paint a swastika in a yeshiva neighborhood or put one five miles away where they don’t even know if there’s a Jew,” said Heni, “Although they may be directing their hate toward African-Americans or Hispanics, this is in addition to their being anti-Semitic…. What they are saying when they wear a T-shirt with a swastika or paint a bench or a building is, ‘I know the Holocaust happened, and I’m happy.’”