AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU — David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, said Thursday that it was a “mistake” to rely on statistics when analyzing the recent surge in violent anti-Semitic attacks in the United States.
Speaking to The Times of Israel at the Birkenau death camp in Poland before the March of the Living ceremony, Friedman also addressed a recent cartoon in The New York Times that was widely deemed anti-Semitic, saying he could not forgive the paper for printing it.
Asked about a report issued this week by the Anti-Defamation League that found that all identifiable “extremist” attacks on Jews in the United States in 2018 were carried out by white supremacists, he noted the infrequency of incidents such as a shooting last year at a Pittsburgh synagogue that has been described as the most deadly attack ever on Jews on US soil.
“I doubt it,” Friedman said of the analysis of the ADL statistics. “I haven’t studied it and I think it’s a mistake to get caught up in statistics when we are talking about — thank God — a series of events that are not yet becoming a daily occurrence.”
In its annual audit, the Jewish civil rights group found a five percent decrease in the overall number of incidents over 2017, the year with the highest number of incidents in recent times — but a rise in the number of violent attacks.
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.
“I think there is a lot of analysis that can go into it and I’d be careful about attributing blame to anyone, right or left, other than the sick people who commit these crimes,” Friedman said.
The ADL report, issued ahead of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, came out days after a far-right gunman opened fire inside a San Diego area synagogue, killing one congregant and injuring three others.
Asked whether the Trump administration had a concrete plan of action to protect the Jewish community in light of the California shooting, Friedman said: “The security of every American citizen is a priority for the president.
“Even before the attack in Pittsburgh, we condemned anti-Semitism and worked on ways to avoid these horrible incidents,” he continued. “Hate crimes of any kind are unacceptable and we consider it a very high priority to plan against it, but mostly our planning is done in a way that we really don’t talk about publicly.”
The ambassador was part of the first official US delegation to participate in the March of the Living, an annual commemorative march between the Auschwitz camp and Birkenau.
Friedman said that as a private citizen, participating in the March of the Living was “extremely moving, extremely disturbing” and “very painful,” describing “a range of emotions” that were “very difficult to process.” Speaking as a public official, he said, “it is the best way we can think of to express my country’s and the administration’s commitment to combating anti-Semitism in all its forms.”
The ambassador also commented on a cartoon depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind, kippah-wearing US President Donald Trump, which was picked up by the international edition of The New York Times last weekend. The image was widely construed as anti-Semitic and sparked a firestorm of criticism.
On Tuesday, the Times published a second apology for the “appalling” cartoon, and said its actions in publishing it were “evidence of a profound danger — not only of anti-Semitism but of numbness to its creep.”
The publisher of the paper also said he was taking disciplinary measures against a production editor who gave the go-ahead to run the cartoon.
Friedman, asked if he forgave the paper for running the cartoon, said, “I don’t, I don’t.”
This year’s March of the Living took on added urgency amid reports showing a persistent rise in anti-Semitic attacks worldwide.
Israeli researchers reported Wednesday that violent attacks against Jews spiked significantly last year, with the largest reported number of Jews killed in anti-Semitic acts in decades, leading to an “increasing sense of emergency” among Jewish communities worldwide.
Capped by the deadly shooting that killed 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, assaults targeting Jews rose 13 percent in 2018, according to Tel Aviv University researchers.
The researchers recorded nearly 400 cases worldwide, with more than a quarter of the major violent attacks taking place in the United States.
Eric Cortellessa and agencies contributed to this report.