ADL: Assaults on US Jews rise in 2018, anti-Semitism at ‘near-historic’ high

Last year saw a decrease in total number of incidents expressing anti-Jewish hatred reported to watchdog, but Pittsburgh shooting was single deadliest attack ever on American Jewry

A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6, including 4 police, at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/via JTA)
A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6, including 4 police, at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/via JTA)

American Jews experienced “near-historic levels of anti-Semitism” in 2018, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League.

The year saw a more than doubling of the number of anti-Semitic physical assaults compared to 2017, as well as the single deadliest attack against the American Jewish community with the October killing of 11 congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

Last year saw the third-highest number of overall anti-Semitic incidents since 1979, despite a decrease from the previous year, according to the audit. The highest number was recorded in 1994 and the second highest in 2017. Last year’s figures match the total for 1991, the third highest tally in a single year.

The report counts cases of assault, harassment and vandalism, as reported to ADL by victims, law enforcement and the media.

Illustrative: Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning after a rally on April 21, 2018 in Draketown, Georgia. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Though the 1,879 total incidents in 2018 were a decrease from the 1,986 incidents in 2017, the number of anti-Semitic physical assaults more than doubled, to 39 from 17.

In 2016 and 2014, respectively, 36 anti-Semitic physical assaults were listed in the ADL annual audit. In 2015, the figure was as high as 56, though none of the attacks highlighted by the watchdog caused serious injury or fatality.

The 2018 assaults involved 59 victims in 2018, up from 21 in 2017 — an increase of 105 percent. That number includes the 11 people killed and the two injured in the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last October.

A swastika painted on the home of a supporter of New Jersey Congressman Josh Gottheimer, September 2018. (Courtesy)

“The remaining 46 victims of anti-Semitic assaults were attacked in or near retail establishments (four), a sports arena (one), college campuses (five), homes (two), Jewish institutions (two), non-Jewish K-12 schools (two) and public areas (30). The assaults included attempted knifings, chokings, punches, thrown items and vehicular rammings. The 11 fatalities in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting were the only deadly anti-Semitic assaults in 2018,” it said.

The report also said 1,066 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment were reported to the watchdog last year, a 5% increase from 1,015 in 2017 and a 48% increase from 721 in 2016.

In addition, there were 774 incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2018, which was down 19% from 952 in 2017, but up 52% from 510 in 2016.

According to the report, the last three months of 2018 were “unusually active” in terms of incidents. The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue “likely drew more attention to anti-Semitic activities,” the ADL said.

Thirteen percent of the incidents, 249 acts, were attributable to extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology. According to the ADL, this makes it the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents connected to extremists or extremist groups since 2004. The report does not lay out any findings on the political views of these extremists, but notes that the vast majority of hateful fliers and banners were distributed by white supremacist groups.

A couple embrace near a growing memorial across the street from the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, April 29, 2019 (AP Photo/Greg Bull)

“We’ve worked hard to push back against anti-Semitism, and succeeded in improving hate crime laws, and yet we continue to experience an alarmingly high number of anti-Semitic acts,” ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement Tuesday. “We unfortunately saw this trend continue into 2019 with the tragic shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway.” A gunman killed a woman and wounded three people in an attack at a California synagogue on Saturday.

Anti-Semitic incidents took place across the country, but the states with the largest Jewish populations tended to see a larger number of attacks, including California (341); New York (340); New Jersey (200) and Massachusetts (144). Those four states combined saw more than half the total number of incidents in the US, the ADL said.

Last year, Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett questioned the ADL’s figures, which reported a 57 percent increase in 2017 compared to 2016.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a New Right party press conference in Tel Aviv on February 7, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Bennett’s spokesman Jason Pearlman told The Times of Israel at the time that the Knesset member “doesn’t think necessarily that there are more anti-Semites, per se, but because of social media and the ability of groups to connect and amplify their message, there may well be more anti-Semitic incidents.”

“When it comes to anti-Semitism on the street, violent attacks, the ADL report says there is a reduction in such crimes,” Pearlman added. “So there are areas of concern that have got worse, but there are areas of concern that may have even improved.”

He was referring to the figures in the report, which showed a decrease in anti-Semitic assaults in 2017 as compared to 2016 (19 compared to 36), while incidents of vandalism and harassment were reported to rise (from 510 incidents of vandalism in 2016 to 952 in 2017; 721 incidents of harassment in 2016 to 1,015 in 2017). The ADL tally also included bomb threats phoned in to Jewish community centers, which were later found to allegedly be coming from an autistic Israeli teenager living in the coastal city of Ashkelon.

JTA contributed to this report.

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