ADL antisemitism audit shows increased incidents, even in the South

The vandalism at Etz Chayim and Chabad of Huntsville in April 2020 will certainly be part of next year’s ADL audit.

Much to nobody’s surprise, the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents showed the highest level of antisemitic incidents last year since tracking began in 1979, with more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment reported across the United States.

“This was a year of unprecedented antisemitic activity, a time when many Jewish communities across the country had direct encounters with hate,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “This contributed to a rising climate of anxiety and fear in our communities. We are committed to fighting back against this rising tide of hate and will double down on our work with elected leaders, schools, and communities to end the cycle of hatred.” 

The audit, released on May 12, showed a 12 percent rise in overall incidents in 2019, with a 56 percent increase in assaults. More than half of the 61 assaults nationwide took place in the five boroughs of New York City, with 25 in Brooklyn.

There were also 919 vandalism incidents, up 19 percent from 2018. There were 1,127 incidents of harassment, up 6 percent.

ADL’s Center on Extremism identified 234 incidents targeting Jewish synagogues and community centers in 2019. This included the white supremacist shooting at a Chabad center in Poway, California, which killed one worshipper and injured three others.

There were incidents reported in every state, except Alaska and Hawaii. The states with the highest numbers of incidents were New York: 430, New Jersey: 345, California: 330, Massachusetts: 114 and Pennsylvania: 109. Combined, these states account for nearly 45 percent of the total number of incidents.

“It was an extremely challenging year for Jewish communities across the United States, and American Jews are feeling anxious about the current climate” said Dr. Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of ADL’s Southern Division in Atlanta, which also covers Alabama and Tennessee. “We are fighting all forms of hate and the rise of antisemitism harder than ever, and working with communities and leaders to end the cycle of hatred. The disturbing data on rising antisemitism is particularly important to reflect on during this pandemic.”

“What we saw in the South Central Region tracks with what we have seen nationally,” said Aaron Ahlquist, regional director of ADL South Central office in New Orleans. “With 2019 reflecting the highest number of antisemitic incidents ever recorded by ADL across the nation, this region has not been immune.  From antisemitic extremists disrupting a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Russellville, Ark., to an antisemitic assault on a man in Lafayette, La., we have seen acts of hate threaten not just the Jewish community, but the entire community.” 

The South Central region includes Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where there were 24 incidents in 2019, up from 15 in 2018.

“We will continue to work with our community partners, law enforcement and elected officials to counter these acts of hate,” said Ahlquist, “and build a more just and inclusive society, that is safe not just for Jews, but for all communities that find themselves vulnerable to hate.” 

A major event in the region was when members of the white supremacist Shield Wall Network showed up at a Holocaust remembrance event in Russellville, Ark., in May, trying to shout down the outdoor event. This came after a Jewish professor publicized that a scholarship at Arkansas Tech had been named after a deceased professor who dabbled in Holocaust denial. The head of Shield Wall, a former student of that professor, launched a harassment campaign against the professor, who was a keynote speaker at the Holocaust event.

Overall, Arkansas had 10 incidents, up from three. The New Jersey European Heritage Association posted anti-Israel stickers saying “Open Borders for Israel” in Fayetteville and Bentonville in May, in Harrison in September, in Tontitown in November and in West Memphis in December. In Booneville, a building was vandalized with a swastika and SS bolts in September. In December, a Chanukah display was vandalized in Hot Springs.

In Helena, a Jewish individual was the recipient of antisemitic harassment and threats in December.

The Daily Stormer Book Club, small crews of young white men who follow and support Andrew Anglin and his neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, distributed antisemitic literature at churches in numerous states, including in Alabaster, Ala.; Florida and Georgia.

Alabama had six incidents, down from nine in 2018, which had been as many as the previous three years combined. A harassment incident in New Brockton led to a Jewish employee being fired in April. In Huntsville in January, a tenant was a victim of antisemitic discrimination from an apartment manager. In Mobile, someone faxed antisemitic messages to an academic department at the University of South Alabama in January. In March, a non-Jewish student made antisemitic comments to a Jewish student in Mountain Brook.

A Facebook post in May about abortion legislation included a comment to “STFU” because “you are jewish.” There were also many white supremacist leafletings that weren’t necessarily antisemitic.

Louisiana’s count dropped from 12 to 10 this year. In February, a home in Prairieville was vandalized with “f—- you Jew” spelled in plastic cutlery, among other antisemitic messages. In Lafayette, a Jewish student was told in March to “go back to the concentration camps” and in November a Jewish middle school student in Lafayette was told to “go back to the ovens” when she remarked that she was cold. Also in Lafayette, in June a man attending a business convention had his yarmulke slapped off his head by a presenter.

In New Orleans, a student at an elementary school reportedly did the Sieg Heil in April. In May, a swastika was etched into the pavement by a synagogue, and in November an abandoned building was vandalized with a swastika and a Star of David. Also, an October column in the Hullabaloo, the student newspaper at Tulane, linked Zionism to white supremacy.

In Mandeville, a Jewish teacher’s desk was etched with swastikas in September, and another harassment incident in Mandeville in May is listed as “confidential.”

Mississippi had reported zero incidents in 2018 but had four this year. In McComb in August, during a race equity training, a Jewish participant was told by an instructor that Jews are white supremacists. In October, an individual in Batesville was harassed by his supervisor after mentioning he attends a synagogue. The New Jersey European Heritage Association posted anti-Israel stickers in Tupelo in August.

The online summary of the audit mentions swastika vandalism at Mount Evergreen Cemetery in Jackson last June, attributing it to Mississippi, but the cemetery in question is in Michigan.

Tennessee had nine incidents, while Georgia had 29, similar to last year.

In Florida, which had 91 incidents statewide, the ADL has a white supremacist incident in Panama City and Panama City Beach, where Patriot Front distributed propaganda at rallies for Andrew Yang and Donald Trump.

There was also the Dec. 6 shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, where Mohammad Saeed Alshamrani killed three and wounded eight others, in what is being called an Islamist incident.

Padilla-Goodman said “We know that historically, antisemitism flourishes in times of economic and social insecurity, and so in this time of fear and uncertainty, we must unite as a community to stop the rise of hatred as we work for global stability.”