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Anti-Semitic incidents remained at historically high levels in 2018

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CNN's Sara Sidner takes a look at the rise in anti-Semitic violent attacks in the US after two deadly synagogue attacks within months.

Posted: May 14, 2019 9:20 AM
Updated: May 14, 2019 9:20 AM

Anti-Semitic incidents remained near historic levels in 2018 after surging the previous year, according to an annual report from the Anti-Defamation League.

This year's figures from the ADL, which tracks such incidents across the United States, say 2018 was the third-highest year on record for assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews since the audit was begun in 1979.

The report comes three days after a gunman targeted worshippers at a synagogue in Poway, California. Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL's CEO and director, said the release of the report was planned before the attack, and showed that anti-Semitism was a nationwide problem.

"Unfortunately, the horrific tragedy in San Diego County reminds us that anti-Semitism is virulently strong," he said.

There were a total of 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions across the country, according to the report. This total includes the 11 people killed during the October 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the US.

These numbers are down slightly from the 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, the ADL said.

"We've worked hard to push back against anti-Semitism, and succeeded in improving hate crime laws, and yet we continue to experience an alarmingly high number of anti-Semitic acts," Greenblatt said in the report. "It's clear we must remain vigilant in working to counter the threat of violent anti-Semitism and denounce it in all forms, wherever the source and regardless of the political affiliation of its proponents."

The incidents

The 1,879 incidents reported in 2018 break down like this:

  • cases of harassment (1,066)
  • cases of vandalism (774)
  • cases of assault (39)

The ADL report also makes note of who is responsible for these incidents. Some 249 of them are attributed to "known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology." That's 13% of the total number of incidents, which is the highest level of such incidents tied to extremist groups or individuals since 2004, the group said.

"These incidents were the result of an anti-Semitic flyering campaign and of a series of robocalls perpetrated by a neo-Nazi," the report reads.

Where they happen

Anti-Semitic acts happened in all kinds of places, such as cemeteries, businesses and private homes. But last year these incidents mostly occurred out in public. The most common locations for anti-Semitic incidents included:

  • public areas (476)
  • K-12 non-Jewish schools (344)
  • private homes (276)
  • Jewish institutions (265)

The number of incidents at schools represented a 25% drop from last year, Greenblatt said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

"While we can't pinpoint any one reason why those numbers are improving, we believe that higher degrees of awareness among teachers and administrators, as well as perhaps the impact of the anti-bias education, is helping to mitigate anti-Semitic acts at schools," he said.

"Nevertheless, there were still several troubling, high-profile incidents that gave us pause -- such as a group of high school students in Baraboo, Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee, who made Hitler salutes at their graduation and other incidents in schools that showed the need for ongoing education and awareness."

The states

An anti-Semitic incident happened in all but four US states last year. These are the states where acts of harassment, vandalism and assault against Jews happened the most:

  • California (341)
  • New York (340)
  • New Jersey (200)
  • Massachusetts (144)

These states, which have large Jewish populations, combined to account for more than half of the total US incidents.

The solutions

How should the nation respond to all of these anti-Semitic incidents? The ADL wants the nation's leaders to take decisive action, urging "public officials and civic leaders (to) use their bully pulpits to speak out against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and extremism."

The group also wants Congress to hold more hearings on the rise in hate crimes, the growth of extremist groups and the proliferation of propaganda. The ADL wants policymakers to do a better job of giving law enforcement the tools and training it needs to respond to hate crimes. It also wants to see school districts do more to promote anti-bias and bullying prevention programs in schools.

"It is incumbent upon our leaders to continue fighting anti-Semitism at every opportunity," said George Selim, ADL's senior vice president of programs. "We will continue to advocate for legislative and other remedies to ensure that there is no place for anti-Semitism in our society."

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