Hatred heats up

Hatred heats up

ADL: Anti-Semitism on rise in N.J.; state ranks third in U.S. for bias offenses

At Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus, Jewish students demanded the firing of Michael Chikindas, a tenured microbiology professor, after he posted anti-Semitic cartoons and statements on his Facebook page. His situation is under review by the administration.

An Egyptian-born imam at a Jersey City mosque is receiving counseling after delivering sermons in which he called Jews “apes and pigs” and urged people to “kill them down to the very last one.”

A banner hung outside the Holocaust Memorial in Lakewood read “(((HEEBS))) WILL NOT DIVIDE US.”

These are but a few of the 208 bias offenses targeting New Jersey Jews last year, a jump of 32 percent from the 152 incidents in 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. The ADL’s numbers indicate that New Jersey is the third-highest state in the nation for anti-Semitic activity. New York had, by far, the most incidents with 380, and California had 268.

The annual audit, released on Feb. 27, suggests that for the third consecutive year, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Garden State.

“The current statistics confirm what we all thought last year: that anti-Semitism did surge” in New Jersey, said Joshua Cohen, regional director of the ADL’s New Jersey office. 

Cohen attributed much of the increase to “the failure of some leaders to forcefully condemn the forces of anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred” — he did not refer to anyone by name — and “the increase of far-Right-extremists.”

Declining to include specific details and locations due to security concerns, the ADL said the anti-Jewish activities included three physical assaults, the same number as in 2016; 110 acts of vandalism toward Jewish businesses, synagogues, institutions, and an eruv, up from 81; and 95 cases of harassment, a jump of 22 from the previous year.

Cohen said he was especially troubled by the dramatic rise in incidents at schools and colleges throughout the state; the 61 occurrences in 2017 more than double the 29 incidents from the year before. In fact, school-related acts of anti-Semitism represent nearly a third of the total incidents in the state.

Examples cited by the ADL include: Jewish students at one school were told to “burn in Hitler’s EZ Bake Oven”; a white supremacist hate group called Vanguard America, which claims 200 members in 20 states, posted racist and anti-Jewish fliers at Rutgers and Princeton universities; riders on a middle school bus were recorded singing happy birthday to Hitler; and students from a different middle school created an online chat room called “Kill All Jews.” 

Cohen said the ADL has sharpened its techniques for dealing with bias reports, and suggested that one of the reasons for the sharp increase in reported incidents is that people have learned the importance of informing the ADL and the police if something noteworthy happens.  

“We have new internet technology simplifying the reporting process, so that anyone who observe a racist or anti-Semitic moment can contact the organization anonymously, which promises to investigate the claim and take appropriate actions as deemed necessary,” he said.

Cohen also stressed that all people need to report acts of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, he said, “is like the canary in the coal mine. When there is a rise in anti-Semitic incidents there is also a rise in attacks on other minority communities.” 

He added: “An attack on the Jewish community is an attack on the entire community.”

There were 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents reported across the United States in 2017, a startling 57 percent increase over the 1,267 incidents in 2016. These numbers include the 163 bomb threats against Jewish institutions in 2017, up 41 percent from the previous year. Those numbers, the highest level since the record year of 1994, were explained in stark terms by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, and George Selim, the organization’s senior vice president of programs, during a Feb. 27 conference call. 

Greenblatt blamed part of the increase on “the divisive state of our national discourse, which has contributed broadly to the diminishment of civility in society” and has allowed hate groups and white supremacists “to feel emboldened and more frequently taking action in public and on social media.”

He further lamented that candidates affiliated with the alt-right, who he says fan the flames of hatred, are openly running for Congress, and he criticized leaders who do not forcefully respond to hate. 

“Public figures have a responsibility to play when there are acts of hate,” he said. “If you ask me whether it’s the PTA president or a university president or a company president or the president of the United States, people in positions of authority have an obligation to use that authority to represent our shared values of diversity and respect and tolerance. When they don’t reinforce those values, bad ideas can fill the vacuum.” 

In a not-so-veiled reference to the current White House, Greenblatt said that “the presidential Twitter account is retweeting memes developed by some of the worst segments of society” and “strands of intolerance have moved from the shadows to seep into the mainstream, and they are not being called out by people at the highest levels of authority.” 

Neither side of the ideological spectrum “is exempt from intolerance” and “neither political party has a monopoly on morality.” But, he said, “we need our president and all elected officials to speak up.”   

Following Greenblatt on the conference call, George Selim, ADL’s senior vice president for programs, said the nearly doubled increase of anti-Semitic expressions at colleges — a total of 204 incidents in 2017, up from 108 in 2016 — were not related to heated conflicts over Israel on many campuses. But he called on the federal Departments of Justice and Education to investigate whether anti-Israel activity “crosses the line” into discrimination against Jews on campus. 

Selim also called on legislators on both sides of the aisle to denounce “anti-Semitic incidents and all acts of hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia.” 

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