The upsurge in the Anti-Semitic Threats and Violence

Jun 15, 2021

In the wake of clashes in Israel and Gaza, synagogues have been vandalized and Jews have been threatened and attacked. 

In Skokie, Ill., it was a shattered window at a synagogue. In Bal Harbour, Fla., it was four men yelling, "Die Jew," at a man in a skullcap, then threatening to rape his wife and daughter. And in Midtown Manhattan, it was a group of people attacking a Jewish man in the middle of the street in broad daylight. 

From California to New York, a wave of antisemitic attacks has broken out in communities over the last two weeks, leaving officials in law enforcement and government scrambling to confront the domestic ripple effects of the recent outbreak in violence between Israel and Hamas.  

The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect Thursday evening after both parties agreed to halt an 11-day military confrontation that left at least 230 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes, the Associated Press reported. 

The conflict has increased tensions in the U.S. – online and in person – between supporters of Israel and Palestinians. The Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based international Jewish organization, said it has seen a "dangerous and drastic surge" in antisemitic hate crimes since the conflict broke out. 

In addition to the rise in antisemitic violence, Muslims in the U.S. have also been the targets of hate in recent weeks, and at least two mosques have been vandalized in what police are investigating as hate crimes. 

Why are anti-Semitic hate crimes on the rise in New York? 

There is no one factor that points to why anti-Semitism is on the rise in New York. The rise of social media has given those who espouse anti-Semitic and hateful messages a platform to broadcast those views to a much larger audience.  

A few things appear to be influencing the rise of anti-Semitic hate crime. First, when societies become socio-politically fragmented, there is less of a communal firewall to repel the harmful stereotypes that fuel hate crime. 

New York is home to the largest Jewish population in the world (outside of Israel) – 25% of U.S. Jews reside in New York state – so population density and local demographics means there are a lot of diverse people squeezed into a city where they will have frequent, but limited, interactions, some of which are conflictual. This plays out in cities across the U.S., so in LA, for example, people of color commit the overwhelming majority of racial hate crimes against each other.  

Hate crimes reported to the NYPD stand at 191 so far this year citywide, marking a nearly 71% increase compared to the same point in 2020, according to the NYPD's crime stats portal.  The surge in violence has prompted hate crime investigations in multiple states. 

“That was probably the most pain I’ve been in quite a long time,” said assault victim Joseph Borgen as he recalled this terrifying assault in Times Square last Thursday. 

The 29-year-old, who was wearing a yarmulke, was on his way to a pro-Israel rally. “Before I could even react, I was surrounded by a whole crowd of individuals who, yeah, as you mentioned, proceeded to kick me, punch me, hit me with flagpoles, crutches,” Joseph said. He says the gang of attackers was yelling anti-Semitic slurs.  The NYPD hate crimes task force is investigating and has made at least one arrest. 

The surge in violence has prompted hate crime investigations in multiple states. In New York City, where police are stepping up their presence in Jewish communities, authorities are investigating Thursday's attack near Times Square as a hate crime. They are also investigating a separate case in which a 55-year-old woman was injured by what police described as an "explosive device."

“There is increased anti-Semitism and we do need to be attentive to it,” said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, with the National Jewish Center For Learning and Leadership, is right. This is just one of several anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred across the nation during and after the conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

"The anti-Semitism we're seeing across our country isn't in isolation and isn't just a few incidents," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday. "It's part of a horrible and consistent pattern. History teaches us we ignore that pattern at our own peril."

Speaking Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the nation's most prominent Jewish politicians, sought to frame the attacks as part of a larger problem of violence and hatred facing the country. "Anti Semitism is rising in America. It's rising all over the world. That is an outrage. And we have got to combat antisemitism," Sanders said. "We have to combat the increase in hate crimes in this country, against Asians, against African Americans, against Latinos. So we have a serious problem of a nation which is being increasingly divided, being led by right-wing extremists in that direction."   

But what’s clear now is the Jewish community is once again confronting the fact that anti-Semitism is alive and well in America. A Pew survey of American Jews, conducted in 2020 and released in May, found that three-quarters of American Jews believed there was “more anti-Semitism in America than there was five years ago.” Fifty-three percent said they feel personally less safe as a result.

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