Anti-Semitism at all-time high in NJ and Facebook group shares blame, ADL says
Violence, vandalism and harassment targeting Jewish people reached an all-time high last year in New Jersey, according to a report by a civil rights organization, which called out one particular group in Ocean County for fomenting hate.
The Anti-Defamation League of New York/New Jersey said Tuesday that the 345 incidents of anti-Semitism last year in one of the most diverse states in the nation represented a 73% increase since 2018 and was the second-highest of any state.
The most egregious of all crimes was the Dec. 10 massacre at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, where two black nationalists gunned down the Jewish owner and a Jewish patron along with a store clerk. The attackers, who earlier had killed a detective, died in a shootout with police.
Lesser crimes tied to anti-Semitism also skyrocketed across the state, the ADL found. Vandalism incidents climbed from 104 to 179. Reports of harassment climbed from 94 to 161. For the second year in a row, incidents at school went up, from 63 to 97. And college campus incidents went from eight to 14.
The ADL report comes months after the state Attorney General's Office in August reported an increase in overall bias incidents in 2017 and 2018, which Attorney General Gurbir Grewal called a "crisis." More than half of the incidents were aimed at black people while a third were motivated by religion, mostly with Jewish victims.
The state's report last year cited research suggesting that the rise in incidents was partly due to "social media, political rhetoric, and the rise in the number of hate groups."
The ADL report on Tuesday put special attention on Rise Up Ocean County, a group that was removed by Facebook in February after the state Attorney General's Office complained about its content to the social media giant.
The ADL report suggests that the "vile and antisemitic content" by the Facebook group, including "several posts, comments and videos promoting incitement of violence against the Orthodox Jewish community," was partly responsible for the 157% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Ocean County.
"This surge in incidents, which coincides with the apparent establishment of Rise Up Ocean County in October 2018, only underscores the continued need to combat hate online," the report said.
Rise Up Ocean County was also deleted from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Google removed the group from YouTube. The group's website, however, remains online where one of the administrations, Rich Ciullo, said it continues to get thousands of visitors.
"If the hope was that the message is going to be quashed, unfortunately that’s not the case," he said.
The seven administrators of Rise Up Ocean County are planning on filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the governments of Lakewood, Ocean County and New Jersey as well as Facebook and Google, saying that the group was being blamed for comments left by Facebook users.
"At the end of the day, our group is not anti-Semitic in any way, shape or form. Some of the comments were. In most cases we would remove something that we felt was too close to the line. In some cases, quite frankly, we left it there," Ciullo said Tuesday.
He said that last year when he noticed a comment that "we deemed as potentially a precursor to something violent occurring," he notified and cooperated with the Ocean County Sheriff's Office and prosecutors.
Some of the comments on the Facebook page that outraged the ADL included “We need to get rid of them like Hitler did,” and, “When they resist, bulldoze them.” In the state's letter to Facebook, prosecutors pointed to language about communities being "under assault" by a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis "who control the fate of Lakewood" and who are seeking "colonization."
The primary focus of the former Facebook page and now the website has been overdevelopment in Lakewood, one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state and a township with a significant Orthodox Jewish population. But posts on the Facebook group and website also included commentary on the Jewish religion, including an article and campaign last month against the ritualistic slaughter of chickens.
"As important as it is for us to better understand the needs, wants and desires of the Orthodox Jewish community, the Orthodox Jewish community needs to better understand the needs, wants and desires of the community outside of theirs," Ciullo said Tuesday. "In other words, they need to be understand why it is we don’t want to see row houses built in Toms River. They need to better understand why tearing down acres of trees and clear-cutting it all to put up duplexes with basement apartments and bringing in 20,000 families is not what anybody wants to see outside of Lakewood at this point."
The group has been condemned by governing bodies in Lakewood, Toms River and the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, but its administrators have no plans to let up.
ADL's regional leaders said the rise in incidents last year was alarming.
“Jews in New Jersey are dealing with levels of bigotry unmatched in the past forty years," Shira J. Goodman, regional director of ADL’s regional office for Philadelphia and South Jersey, said in written statement. "As we have seen in Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, Monsey and elsewhere, anti-Semitism in America can be deadly, and we cannot afford to leave it unchecked. This is not a Jewish problem; this is an American problem, and we need all Americans to join the fight against anti-Semitism.”
On Twitter, Grewal responded to the ADL report by calling its findings "deeply troubling."
"We take this problem seriously and are committed to combatting hate in all its forms. But we have plenty of work to do," he said.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.