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Antisemitic incidents in US spiked to record high in 2021, ADL reports

Jewish civil rights group also reports surge during Gaza fighting last May; CEO Greenblatt says political instability and polarization main causes for increase in cases

Illustrative: A sticker with a swastika is seen in Anchorage, Alaska, on May 25, 2021. (Anchorage Police Department)
Illustrative: A sticker with a swastika is seen in Anchorage, Alaska, on May 25, 2021. (Anchorage Police Department)

JTA — The number of antisemitic incidents recorded by the Anti-Defamation League in the United States reached an all-time high in 2021, according to a new report by the group.

The 2,717 incidents identified in news articles by the ADL or reported to the ADL directly in 2021 represent a 34% increase from the 2,024 incidents of antisemitism tallied by the group in 2020. Previously, the 2,107 incidents in 2019 were the highest total since the ADL began publishing annual counts in 1979.

Anything from a slur to a terror attack can be included in the tally. For the second straight year, 2021 saw no fatal incidents tied to antisemitism in the United States, but the ADL counted 88 antisemitic assaults, a 167% increase from the 33 assaults in the 2020 count.

The group cited several reasons for the high numbers — including what the ADL said was “improved reporting” because of partnerships with multiple Jewish organizations.

The partnerships — with several Jewish organizations including the Community Security Initiative, Community Security Service, Hillel International, Secure Community Network, Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — were responsible for identifying 494 incidents, or 18% of the total.

The ADL also documented a surge in incidents linked to the May 2021 round of deadly clashes between Israel and Hamas, many of which made national headlines at the time.

“Jews were being attacked in the streets for no other reason than the fact that they were Jewish, and it seemed as if the working assumption was that if you were Jewish, you were blameworthy for what was happening half a world away,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

The 297 incidents that took place during the fighting in May represent an increase, but the ADL recorded other spikes later in the year, without a similar trigger.

More than any single factor, Greenblatt said the overall increase in antisemitic incidents can be linked to political instability and polarization.

“When it comes to antisemitic activity in America, you cannot point to any single ideology or belief system, and in many cases, we simply don’t know the motivation,” Greenblatt said. “But we do know that Jews are experiencing more antisemitic incidents than we have in this country in at least 40 years, and that’s a deeply troubling indicator of larger societal fissures.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 2, 2017. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Nearly 20% of the incidents the ADL tallied last year were attributable to right-wing actors, according to the report, which notes a sharp rise in the distribution of antisemitic pamphlets by groups such as the Goyim Defense League. A man set fire to a synagogue last October in Austin, Texas, shortly after the group held a rally there.

The Anti-Defamation League has lately faced criticism over both its overall strategy and its specific efforts to tally antisemitic incidents. Right-wing critics have charged that the group has abandoned its focus on Jewish security and, in the course of doing so, has grown concerned only with antisemitism on the right. Meanwhile, left-wing critics have argued that the group too easily conflates Israel criticism and antisemitism, leading to an inflated measure of hatred against Jews.

In a field where a number of newer entrants have adopted a combative approach to identifying and fighting antisemitism, the ADL has said that it remains committed to applying traditional research methods to its work.

When it announced the Hillel partnership last year, for example, the group emphasized that it would not automatically count Israel criticism as evidence of antisemitism, and that it would seek to independently verify incidents of antisemitism reported to it. Last month, the group announced that it had developed an algorithm to track antisemitism on social media — a project that it had taken on because social media companies had not, ADL officials said.

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