NEW YORK — White supremacists and Islamic terrorists carried out the majority of violent attacks against American Jews and Jewish institutions, according to a new report chronicling more than 100 major attacks on US soil since 1969, put out by the Jewish security organization, Community Security Service (CSS).
“We as Jews need to be vigilant from threats — whether they come from the left or the right or anywhere in between,” said Yehudit Barsky, author of “Terrorist Incidents and Attacks Against Jews and Israelis in the United States, 1969-2016.”
Covering attacks including arson, shootings and explosive devices, the report paints a sobering picture. While the number of attacks targeting American Jews and their institutions declined over the past few years, the lethality and intensity of the attacks have increased. Compared to earlier attacks, those of today claim more victims and are more brazen in their execution.
Additionally, the report supports FBI hate crime statistics that show Jews are still targeted more than any other religious group in the US. Of the 1,354 anti-religious hate crimes recorded by the FBI for 2015, 51.3%, or 695, targeted Jews.
“Each group has its own pattern of behavior, but where it was usually some kind of attack against a Jewish institution done in the dead of night, now you have people walking right into a place, in daylight, and shooting people or trying to blow something up,” Barsky said.
According to the report, synagogues remain the most targeted institution; 51% of the attacks listed in the report were against synagogues, 14% against Jewish communal institutions, 13% against Jewish individuals, and 10% against educational institutions.
As disquieting as the report is, CSS didn’t issue it to cause panic, but rather to serve as a cautionary tale.
“It wasn’t written to say the sky is falling. It’s to show the long-term challenges. What we really wanted to do is make the [Jewish community] aware of what the threat has been and what practical and proactive steps can be taken,” said CSS Executive Director Jason Friedman.
The report specifically focuses on white supremacists and radical Islam, as they are the two groups that most often target Jews and Jewish institutions, Barsky said.
Though the campaign and election of Donald J. Trump certainly emboldened white supremacist groups and individuals such as David Duke and Richard Spencer, these groups have operated for many years, Barsky said.
“It’s not our imagination that these groups are more active now since the election.
But part of what is going on is that people in the middle of the country are in severe economic distress and white supremacists will take advantage of that political and economic turmoil,” Barsky said.
‘People in the middle of the country are in severe economic distress and white supremacists will take advantage of that’
According to the report these groups regard themselves as victims and accuse Jews of a conspiracy to control the world. Blaming Jews for “what they perceive to be the significant ills the white race has suffered,” these groups frequently target institutions over individuals.
Attacks carried out by white supremacists ranged from arson, such as the 2003 destruction of the CANDLES Holocaust museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, to the murder of a security officer outside of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in 2009. Additionally, there was the plot by Leo Felton and Erica Chase to blow up the Boston Holocaust Museum and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in 2001.
The report also chronicles radical Islam’s role in domestic hate crimes.
Originating in the Middle East, groups such as Hamas, Al-Qaida and ISIS appeal to worldwide supporters of the Palestinian cause and the global jihad movement when looking for new recruits. Moreover, many so-called lone wolf attacks performed in the name of ISIS or Al-Qaeda weren’t really the work of a single operator. Radical groups often inspire and instruct these seemingly solitary figures, according to the report.
The report examines how attacks on Jewish institutions often precede large-scale terror attacks. For example, in 2009, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad carried out shooting attacks on two rabbis’ homes prior to his attack on a military recruitment center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
It also stresses that it is important for people to recognize that today’s technology allows those promoting anti-Jewish rhetoric to rapidly reach a wide audience through social media, including Twitter and Facebook. The report serves as a reminder that the Jewish community doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and is subject to the social, political, and economic forces that affect all Americans. It’s when these forces are tested that the Jewish community is often adversely impacted.
As such, there is no room for complacency, Barsky said.
“The Jewish community can’t afford today in 2016 — or 20 years from now, or ever — to act in an irrational way when it comes to security,” Barsky said.
“We need to understand what the risks are and make correct decisions about our security. We don’t want people to feel like they’re in a fortress, but we don’t want them to feel like it’s a free-for-all either,” she said.
On the local level, synagogues, community centers, schools and other Jewish organizations must invest in community security infrastructure. Higher up, on the federal level, its essential that agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security understand the unique threat American Jews face, Friedman said.
“We at CSS advocate that everyone look at themselves as participants in security. I think the report is really about engaging and empowering people and creating a level of awareness among civilians,” he said.