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ADL Survey: Despite COVID restrictions, antisemitism barely decreased in US in 2020

Connecticut numbers reflect downward trend, but will it hold?

By Ben Sales

(JTA) – Despite COVID-related restrictions that kept Americans inside for significant portions of last year, the number of reported antisemitic incidents barely decreased in the United States in 2020, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The number of antisemitic assaults fell sharply, however, and for the first time in three years, no one was killed in an antisemitic attack.

The ADL’s annual audit, published Tuesday, April 26, tallied 2,024 incidents of anti-semitism in the U.S. in 2020, a decline of only 4% from the 2,107 recorded in 2019. The 2020 tally is the third-highest since 1979, when the ADL began publishing annual audits, and is more than double the 2015 figure of 942. The audits are compiled from reports by victims, law enforcement and community leaders.

The drop in antisemitic incidents in Connecticut over the course of 2020, however, was greater than that experienced nationally. Overall, there was a 35 percent decline in antisemitic incidents in Connecticut in 2020, compared to the previous year. According to the 2020 audit, that translates into 24 antisemitic incidents statewide down from 37 antisemitic incidents in 2019, and 39 reported incidents in the previous year, and 49 in 2017, which was an all time high. Of these 24 statewide incidents, two were assaults,; the remaining incidents comprised acts of harassment and vandalism, both of which were fewer in number in 2020 than the previous year. 

Examples of antisemitic assault in Connecticut 2020 included an incident March, when a rabbi standing in the driveway outside the Chabad House at Yale was approached by two teenagers who said, “Give us everything you have, you f***ing Jew.” When the rabbi resisted, the teens assaulted him and stole his car.

The COVID Connection

With synagogues and other communal institutions shuttered for much of the year, 2020 was free of the deadly antisemitic shootings and stabbings that struck the Jewish community in 2019 and 2018. But COVID gave rise to a conspiracy theory in which Jews were blamed for spreading the disease, though the report cautions that “we have not identified cases where we can directly link specific instances of violent antisemitism to conspiracy theories or scapegoating surrounding the COVID-19 virus.”

Last year began with a 25,000-person march in New York City, protesting a spate of attacks against Jews in the area late in 2019, two of them fatal. At that point, before the pandemic was at the top of the national agenda, Jews in New York and elsewhere worried about a further escalation of lethal violence, and leaders at all levels of government promised a response.

Then everything shut down. With synagogues, schools and community centers empty for much of the year, and the streets devoid of crowds, physical manifestations of anti-semitism plummeted, along with the overall number of incidents. January saw 270 total incidents, as opposed to an average of 155 per month once COVID restrictions began.

The number of antisemitic assaults decreased by nearly half, from 61 to 31, year over year. Vandalism decreased by 18%. Incidents at college campuses decreased by 32%.

Steve Ginsburg, regional director of the Connecticut office of ADL, connects the COVID-19 crisis to the downturn in antisemitic incidents on college campuses and especially in grades K through 12 schools.

“At least in our region,” Ginsburg told the Ledger, “there were fewer antisemitic incidents related to school because people weren’t in schools. Incidents of antisemitism were down in K through 12 schools particularly.”

Then again, he says, while there were fewer physical attacks, the pandemic inspired a new manifestation of hate – “Zoombombing” – in which antisemites would disrupt virtual Jewish communal meetings and events, as well as online synagogue services, with hateful speech or images. 

The ADL counted almost 200 Zoombombings throughout the year. Zoombombings made up about a third of total antisemitic harassment incidents recorded at Jewish institutions.

Examples of Zoombombing in Connecticut include an incident in August, when author Daphne Geismar presented sketches from her grandfather’s Holocaust journal at an online event hosted by Voices of Hope, a group of second-generation Holocaust survivors a voice told the group of second-generation survivors. The program was Zoom-bombed with antisemitic drawings of swastikas and curses, and a voice interrupted the talk with vile comments denying the Holocaust.

Eye on domestic extremism

Incidents perpetrated by known extremist groups or individuals rose more than 20% over 2019, in a year that saw social unrest due to COVID, racial justice protests and the election campaign – all settings that attracted extremist groups.

“There is no question that white supremacism is a problem,” says Ginsburg. “Frankly, I think I work as much on that as anything at this moment. You know, we’re always going to be fighting for civil rights – we’re going to be fighting antisemitism and we’re going to be protecting everyone who’s discriminated against, but the domestic extremism threat right now is central to ADL, following the event of January 6.”

In response, Ginsburg says, “We launched the ADL Protect Plan, which is an ADL initiative geared towards stopping domestic extremism – and a huge part of domestic extremism is white supremacy and white nationalism. ADL Connecticut has also devoted more resources to looking at domestic terror and domestic extremism. Our state police are working with the state legislature right now to create a hate crimes and extremism unit within the state police (SB 122), and we’re hoping that bill (SB 122) will pass within the next couple of weeks. 

And, of course, we have a Center for Extremism that monitors exposes and disrupts extremist threats – on the internet and on the ground. 

Hate on the internet

An earlier ADL study found that the volume of white supremacist propaganda doubled in 2020 to the highest number in a decade. And a study by the Network Research Contagion Institute found that online antisemitism peaks during periods of national tension. With tension all across the country running so high in 2020, it’s no wonder then that the internet is playing so significant a role in the advent of antisemitism. 

“People are living on the internet. And when you have so much hate on the internet, that will motivate some people to take action; to leave the house and do something,” explains Ginsburg. 

For example, he points out: “The person who shot and killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was following Gab [an American alt-tech social networking service known for its far-right userbase, many of whom have been banned from other social media platforms] where he read that Jews were responsible for bringing in black and brown people across the Mexican border to take the jobs from White people.” 

Likewise, he says, “The arrest record of that 21-year-old kid arrested in connection with one of the antisemitic incidents at UConn said that he wasn’t acting from a place of ignorance, he acted because he read online that Orthodox Jews are doing terrible things to him.

“We can’t prevent all that, but we’ve got we got to try.”

At the forefront of that fight is ADL’s Center for Technology and Society (CTS). Launched in 2017,(CTS) leads the global fight against online hate and harassment. According to the latest results of the Center’s “Online Hate and Harassment” report, 36% of Jewish respondents experienced online harassment, comparable to 33% the previous year.

A positive trend? Not so fast

“While any decline in the data is encouraging, we still experienced a year in which antisemitic acts remained at a disturbingly high level despite lockdowns and other significant changes in our daily lives and interactions with others,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release. “We can’t let our guard down.”

Ginsburg agrees. As the pandemic at long last wanes and the state takes steps to reopen, he notes, the downward trend in antisemitic incidents is already showing nascent signs of slowing or even reversing. 

“The nationwide trends are good, but even these numbers are high. It’s still one of the three highest years in terms of antisemitic incidents. Even in the last several weeks, we have begun to get reports of more of the kind of school-based incidents that we used to see [prior to the pandemic]. I’m not just talking about the kind of incidents like we had at UConn – I’m talking more about K through 12 schools. We’re seeing situations where it is more of a student who doesn’t really understand or maybe just trying to get some attention. These acts are caused by a lack of education and understanding and obviously they have an impact, but they don’t raise the same level of danger that the  UConn, where the antisemitic act was ideological.”

The ADL audit is the latest of a few studies showing that antisemitism remained relatively prevalent in recent years. A 2019 ADL study found that more than 60% of Americans believed at least one of 11 antisemitic stereotypes while 11% believed a majority of them. A 2020 survey from the American Jewish Committee found that 88% of American Jews say antisemitism remains a problem in the United States.

A survey conducted early in 2020 found that more than one in 10 American adults under 40 believes that Jews caused the Holocaust. Another survey published in 2020 found that one-fifth of respondents from 16 European countries believes that a secret network of Jews influences global political and economic affairs.

Connecticut comes through

Thankfully, says Ginsburg, “When the Connecticut Jewish community reaches out for help, there is a lot of support there for us – from other groups, from legislators, from elected officials.  

“As opposed to some other places in the country, here in Connecticut we have a great deal of bipartisan support,” he says, pointing to the aforementioned SB 122, as well as the recently enacted Holocaust and genocide education bill which was passed by unanimous vote. We have leadership that on these types of issues is almost always supportive. 

ADL’s Center on Extremism has gathered the complete 2019 data, as well as data from the previous two years, on ADL’s H.E.A.T. Map, an interactive online tool that allows users to geographically chart antisemitic incidents and events nationally and regionally. For more information and to read the entire survey, visit adl.org.

Hate crimes see 73% rise in NYC, Asians and Jews most targeted

(JTA) – A dramatic rise in attacks on Asian-Americans has led to an overall increase in hate crimes in New York City during 2021, while the number of crimes targeting Jews decreased slightly. Jews in New York were targeted in 54 hate crimes reported between Jan. 1 and May 2, down from 58 such crimes in the same period in 2020, according to New York Police Department figures released Monday, May 5. The NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force said the city recorded 180 hate crimes through May 2, compared to 104 such crimes during the same period last year, a 73% increase. Asians were the most targeted group with 80 hate crimes through May 2 – soaring from 16 in the same period in 2020. Jews were the next most targeted.

Main Photo: A crowd protests antisemitism in New York City, Oct. 15, 2020. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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