Why were there more anti-Jewish incidents in NJ last year?
Incidents of anti-Semitism touched almost every corner of the state last year, and now the New Jersey chapter of the Anti-Defamation League has put a number on just how prevalent a problem it was.
According to a report by the ADL, there were 208 anti-Semitic incidents reported last year ranging from physical assaults to attacks on Jewish institutions. That number was a 32 percent spike from last year, and a reason for concern for regional director Joshua Cohen.
"Sadly, the 2017 data confirms what we all felt last year — that anti-Semitism has surged in the United States," he said.
Cohen said that the data from the report proves that anti-Semitism is "real and it is growing among certain segments of society." Part of the increase is because people are more willing to report incidents not only to tpolice, but also to the ADL.
Cohen also blames the "divisive state of our national discourse, which has contributed broadly to the diminishment of civility in society." What has become a growing national problem has "cascaded" down to New Jersey, he said.
The ADL counted 110 incidents of vandalism in 2017, which was an increase from 81 the year before. There were 95 incidents of harassment, up from 73, and three physical assaults, which stayed the same.
He said the number of reported incidents at schools more than doubled, from 29 to 61. Cohen called the spike "deeply troubling."
The ADL report cited several examples of incidents at schools last year, including a Jewish student being told to "burn in Hitler's EZ Bake Oven;" an online chat group created by middle school students called "Kill All Jews;" and students on a school bus recorded singing happy birthday to Adolf Hitler.
At the college level, there were several reports of hate and white supremacist groups posting flyers to recruit like-minded students or threaten Jewish students. There were also reports of swastikas being painted on campuses around the country.
"We know that hate groups and white supremacists feel emboldened and more frequently are taking action in public and on social media," Cohen said. "They're also gathering in public in ways we have not seen before."
Combating the rise in anti-Semitic activity won't be easy, but Cohen said the ADL's "comprehensive approach" starts with educating children and also working with law enforcement to address incidents as they happen. He described the ADL as being a "first responder to acts of hate and bigotry in our community," and added that they're "not about to stand down now."
The ADL also would like to see people in power take further steps.
"We want to see public officials and law enforcement authorities use their bully pulpit to speak out against anti-Semitic incidents and all acts of hate," he said. "These officials must support efforts to punish this conduct to the fullest extent of the law while providing comfort and assistance to the individuals, victims, and members of the community."
Cohen called anti-Semitism a "barometer for other types of hate in the community."
"When we see an increase in anti-Semitism we can expect an increase in other types of hate and bigotry in the community," he said.
Cohen said there is no way of knowing this early in 2018 whether the increasing trend will continue.
"For the past few years, there has been a steep increase in anti-Semitic incidents which has coincided with decreasing civility and the rise of hyperpartisanship and xenophobia in the country," he said. "If this is the new normal then we are very concerned that incidents may continue to rise."
New Jersey was not the only state to see a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents. New York had the most number of incidents reported with 380, compared to 200 last year. California was second with 268 incidents compared to 211 last year. Massachusetts was the only other state to report more than 100 incidents with 177, compared to 125 last year.
In 2016, 10 states reported zero anti-Semitic incidents, while last year all 50 states reported at least one incident. Alaska, Mississippi and South Dakota each reported one incident last year. Across the country there were 1,986 incidents of anti-Semitism, compared to 1,267 last year and 942 the year before.
If there is good news from the report it's that while reports of harassment and vandalism went up across the country, the number of assaults reported was almost cut in half from 36 to 19, a significant drop from the 56 reported in 2015.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com