NY survey finds widespread harassment of Jews and other minorities

80 percent of Jewish New Yorkers say they’re bothered by property damage targeting their religion; more observant respondents report increase in anti-Semitic encounters

Illustrative: Nazi-themed election graffiti was found in the upstate New York town of Wellsville on the day that Donald Trump was declared the winner of the presidential election, Nov. 9, 2016. (Twitter via JTA)
Illustrative: Nazi-themed election graffiti was found in the upstate New York town of Wellsville on the day that Donald Trump was declared the winner of the presidential election, Nov. 9, 2016. (Twitter via JTA)

Four in five Jewish New Yorkers said they were “very” or “somewhat” bothered by vandalism or property damage targeting their religion, according to a recent survey on harassment of minority groups.

The report, summarizing the findings of a survey by the New York City Commission on Human Rights and Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, was released Tuesday. It found that 38.7 percent of the 3,105 respondents — Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Jewish and Sikh New Yorkers — reported experiencing “verbal harassment, threats or taunting referring to race, ethnicity or religion,” while 13.6% reported “being purposefully pushed or shoved on a subway platform.”

Nearly one-third of the respondents, 980 individuals, identified as Jewish. Among the Jewish respondents, 80.4% said they were “very” or “somewhat” bothered by vandalism or property damage targeting religion, compared to 64.8% among non-Jews.

The survey was taken between July 2016 and late 2017 — “a timeframe that encapsulates the climate pre- and post-election and the aftermath of
Federal news announcements threatening some of these and other communities,” the report said. It noted certain Trump administration actions during this time frame, including the travel ban on certain Muslim majority countries, ending the Temporary Protected Status for some nationals from designated countries who are in the United States, and attempting to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, immigration policy.

Illustrative: Anti-Semitic fliers were discovered on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, on October 23, 2017. (Courtesy of Cornell Daily Sun via JTA)

Among the Jewish respondents, 24.6% described themselves as not religious or secular; 18.3% and 17.1% deemed themselves to be Reform and Conservative, respectively; and 15.3% said they belonged to no specific branch. Twelve percent described themselves as Orthodox and 2.4% said they were Hasidic.

Those who were more observant of Judaism reported increased experiences with anti-Semitism. Jews who attend services more than once a week were more likely than those who never attend, 39.2% vs. 21%, to say they had experienced verbal harassment, the report said. Also, not being hired because of race, ethnicity or religion was more common among Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish respondents compared to those who were not Orthodox or Hasidic, 55.6% vs. 22.8%.

The commission noted that 71% of respondents overall do not report discrimination when it happens.

The report said the commission worked with numerous Jewish groups, including the JCCs of Harlem and Staten Island, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Jewish Theological Seminary, as well as the liberal groups T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Jewish Voice for Peace backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“T’ruah is horrified that acts of discrimination and harassment against minorities are so prevalent in New York, and we are glad the commission is working to address this,” Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, the group’s deputy director, told JTA.

Keren Soffer Sharon, a community organizer at JFREJ, told JTA: “As much as we all like to think of New York City as a liberal enclave, the fact remains that we are not immune to hate crimes, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or xenophobia. Just as attacks on immigrants, people of color, and workers increases, so do attacks on Jewish communities and visibly Jewish individuals in our city and country.”

Reflecting JFREF’s intersectional thinking, Sharon expressed a belief in the interconnectedness of discrimination and the need for Jews to combat all bias incidents, including those against non-Jews.

“That’s why we’re committed to linking our struggles, because we know that Jewish safety depends on the safety of all people, and that we must have each other’s backs,” she said. “We look forward to using this report in our work to fight oppression on a systemic level, alongside our partners in the Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Sikh community, and are eager to get even sharper together in identifying these critical trends facing so many people in our city.”

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