WASHINGTON — Days after a gunman opened fire inside a San Diego area synagogue, killing one congregant and injuring three others, the Anti-Defamation League released data that showed a decrease in overall anti-Semitic incidents but an increase in violence against Jews in the United States.
In its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the Jewish civil rights group found a five percent decrease in the overall number of incidents, 1,879, in 2018, from the 1,986 anti-Jewish attacks recorded in 2017, the most ever in recent times.
Identifiably right-wing individuals were responsible for 249 of the anti-Semitic “extremist” incidents. Meanwhile, identifiably left-wing individuals were responsible for none of 2018’s incidents, and Islamist individuals were responsible for four, according to the organization’s data.
ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt, however, said that the information also revealed dangerous shifts beyond the broader overall reduction in the number of incidents.
“Any decline in these types of acts is certainly welcome. We can only hope that this is the beginning of a downward trend,” Greenblatt told reporters in a conference call Tuesday morning. “But as we drill down on the data and look more carefully at the trend lines, it’s hard to find much solace.”
Most notably, there was a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic physical assaults, the ADL said, including the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack against Jews on American soil in US history — a 105% increase from 2017.
“Anti-Semitic assaults were sharply on the rise,” Greenblatt said. “We had a year with a record of 39 reported physical assaults. This is a doubling of what we consider to be the worst form of anti-Semitism — the kind of in-your-face attacks against Jews that are visceral and often violent.”
In 2018, 249 acts of anti-Semitism (13% of the total anti-Semitic incidents) were attributable to known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology. In a call, Oren Segal, director of the ADL Center on Extremism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that all 249 of those extremist incidents were attributable to white supremacists.
“Neither side of the political spectrum is exempt from intolerance. The idea that this is a problem with only one side is wrong,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JTA during a conference call. However, he added that “white supremacy is a global terror threat.”
Examining the ADL’s data going back to 2002, JTA found that 2,633 – approximately 34% – of the 7,686 reported anti-Semitic and extremist incidents have been attributed to perpetrators with right-wing ideology, compared to 137 attributed to Islamists or those with a left-wing ideology.
However, Greenblatt noted that researchers aren’t always able to discern perpetrators’s affiliations.
“We don’t know if there might be more [perpetrators inspired by extremist ideologies] out there,” he said.
In all, 59 American Jews were victims of hate motivated assaults in 2018, up from 21 in 2017.
“Unfortunately, the horrific tragedy in San Diego county reminds us that anti-Semitism is virulently strong,” Greenblatt said.
The ADL report also said there was a wave of anti-Semitic robocalls targeting Jewish schools, community centers, and synagogues. Many of these, Greenblatt said Tuesday, spiked in May during the election season for the 2018 midterms.
Moreover, the final three months of 2018 were “unusually active in terms of reported anti-Semitic incidents,” Greenblatt explained: 255 in October, 300 in November, and 194 in December.
“During that last quarter in 2018 — including the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which we tracked as a single event — there were 45 examples of anti-Semitic propaganda distributions by white supremacist organizations,” he said.
The watchdog group also said there were 1,066 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, a 5% increase from 1,015 in 2017 and a 48% increase from 721 in 2016. What’s more, there were 774 incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2018, which was down 19% from 952 in 2017, but still up 52% from 510 over 2016.
Anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 46 out of the 50 US states last year. The states with the highest number of incidents were those with the largest Jewish populations: California (341), New York (340), New Jersey (200) and Massachusetts (144), according to the ADL. Those four states combined saw more than half the total number of 2018 incidents in the US, the ADL said.
Greenblatt said Tuesday that the rise in anti-Semitic assaults — including the massacre that took 11 lives at the Tree of Life synagogue and deadly shooting at the Poway Chabad — meant that substantive action needed to be taken to confront anti-Semitism wherever it’s found.
“It’s clear we must remain vigilant in working to counter the threat of violent anti-Semitism and denounce it in all forms,” he said, “wherever the source and regardless of the political affiliation of its proponents.”