WASHINGTON — After what is believed to be the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in American history, Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett questioned Wednesday whether there was an uptick in anti-Semitism in the United States.
At a roundtable discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the Jewish Home party leader said he was “not sure there’s a surge in anti-Semitism in the United States” and questioned data released earlier this year by the Anti-Defamation League that found a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic episodes from the year prior.
In February, the Jewish civil rights watchdog group released its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, which reported a 57 percent increase in 2017 compared to 2016.
It found that there were 1,986 such incidents in 2017, compared with 1,267 in 2016. The ADL said that increase was the largest in a single year since it began tracking the data in 1979.
“I’m not convinced those are the facts,” Bennett said Wednesday, referring to the ADL’s report. Later, toward the end of the event, the minister said he didn’t “dismiss” the ADL’s findings, but said “we need to learn it and see the facts.”
.@naftalibennett, at roundtable in New York, says he’s “not sure there’s a surge in anti-Semitism in the United States.” Questions recent @ADL_National report: “I’m not convinced those are the facts.” pic.twitter.com/eg50nG2ibT
— Jacob Kornbluh ???????? (@jacobkornbluh) October 31, 2018
“I’m just saying that we need to look at the facts,” he went on. “I understand that the ADL themselves have stated there is a drastic reduction in violent anti-Semitic events, but that has for some reason been hidden from the public discourse.”
Bennett’s spokesman Jason Pearlman told The Times of Israel Wednesday 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.
“In 2017, there were 1,015 instances of harassment, an increase of 41% over the 721 incidents reported in 2016. One hundred sixty-three of the harassment cases were part of the spree of bomb threats made against Jewish institutions in the first quarter of 2017. If those bomb threats were not included in the total number of harassment cases, the total would be 852, an increase of 18% over the 2016 figure,” the report said.
On Saturday, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, with an AR-15 and several handguns, and opened fire on a Shabbat service. The suspect, named as Robert Bowers, killed 11 congregants and injured four police officers, authorities said.
“We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States,” the ADL said in a statement shortly after the massacre.
Federal prosecutors said on Wednesday that Bowers would face 44 charges, up from the original 29 announced on Saturday, including using a firearm to commit murder and other hate crimes, such as obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
Bennett’s comments Wednesday were immediately met with outrage and disbelief on Twitter.
YOU JUST CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP https://t.co/im9IUY5tvy
— Batya Ungar-Sargon (@bungarsargon) October 31, 2018
“In the wake of the deadliest attack against Jews in the history of the US, [Naftali Bennett] calls [the ADL] fake news,” tweeted Batya Ungar-Sargon, an editor with The Forward. “YOU JUST CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP.”