Antisemitism levels remain high, with numerous incidents in region

Members of the Autonomous National Socialists, a neo-Nazi group, posed next to the Holocaust memorial outside of the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville.

While antisemitic incidents declined by 4 percent after hitting an all-time high in 2019, 2020 was still the third-highest year for incidents against American Jews since the Anti-Defamation League began its annual audit in 1979.

The 2020 audit was released on April 27, the second anniversary of the deadly white supremacist attack on the Chabad of Poway, Calif. It recorded a total of 1,242 incidents of harassment, an increase of 10 percent from 2019. At the same time, reported acts of vandalism and assault declined by 18 percent and 49 percent, respectively, and there were no antisemitic fatalities reported in 2020.

ADL’s South Central Region, serving Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, increased from 24 reported incidents in 2019 to 34 reported incidents in 2020, including a significant spike in Mississippi from 4 to 17 between 2019 and 2020, with reported incidents of harassment increasing from 2 to 16. ADL noted a slight drop in Arkansas from 10 to 7 reported incidents, and numbers held steady in Louisiana at 10 reported incidents, eight of which were harassment and two were vandalism.

In  ADL’s Southeast Region that covers Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, incidents of antisemitic vandalism increased by over 50 percent. While the total number of antisemitic incidents across these four states only saw a slight increase, 2020 was a year marked by many horrific vandalism incidents in the Southeast, including the desecration of multiple synagogues and Holocaust memorials across the region.

The Southeast region also recorded 30 incidents of antisemitic harassment in 2020, a 16 percent decrease from 36 in 2019, including seven incidents of antisemitic Zoombombing. There were no incidents of antisemitic assault recorded in 2020 after recording one in 2019.

In all, Alabama reported six incidents in 2020, five of which were vandalism and one was harassment. In 2019, there were no vandalism incidents, but all six incidents that year were harassment. Tennessee had 14 incidents, up from nine, and Georgia had 21, down from 29. Florida had 127 incidents, up from 91 the previous year.

The swastika graffiti at Etz Chayim and Chabad in Huntsville during Passover, and swastikas found on the street outside a Jewish cemetery in New Orleans in June, were among the incidents highlighted in the national report.

In Alabama, Chanukah decorations were vandalized at a Jewish home in Mountain Brook, and a swastika and “White Rights Matter” were spray-painted on an overpass in Huntsville. In September, Zoombombers interrupted the Alabama small communities Havdalah with antisemitic insults. The other incident was swastikas and “KKK” etched in a bathroom at Rogers High School near Florence.

Of Florida’s total, the only three incidents near the panhandle were in Tallahassee, where one harassment incident was deemed confidential. A mailbox was vandalized with a swastika in October, and in March 2020 pro-Israel students at Florida State University reported harassment by members of the stridently anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Mississippi incidents were two clumps of harassment. One group was literature distributed by neo-Nazi group Folksfront in several Mississippi suburbs of Memphis. At Delta State University and in Cleveland, Moonkrieg Division distributed swastika-laden and Holocaust denial propaganda at several venues from February to April, with the phrase “Me and the boys on our way to the local synagogue.”

In Louisiana, a man circled a New Orleans synagogue while shouting antisemitic slurs in September. A November harassment incident in Arabi is classified as confidential.

In August, a Jewish high school student in New Orleans was harassed on Snapchat, including a message that the student should be sent back to Auschwitz. A woman in New Orleans found a swastika in her apartment building’s elevator, a Harahan business posted a flyer calling Covid a “communist criminal hoax” from “Jewish Bolshevik filth,” and a New Orleans business negotiation included one party refusing to “let you or your client Jew me down.”

In February 2020, a threatening voicemail was left at the Jewish Community Center in New Orleans, a Jewish individual in New Orleans received a harassing antisemitic message on NextDoor, and an unknown group distributed flyers saying Jews are the root of “Communism, debt and war.”

“In a year marked by incidents of hate impacting all vulnerable communities, this year’s Audit illustrates the ongoing hatred directed at the Jewish community remains near an all-time high, and increased in the South Central Region, particularly in Mississippi,” said Aaron Ahlquist, ADL’s South Central Region director.

“These findings demonstrate that even in the midst of a global pandemic, antisemitism continues to plague our communities across the Southeast,” said Allison Padilla-Goodman, ADL vice president of the Southern Division. “Vandalism impacts communities tremendously as they are often witnessed by many, causing the pain to reverberate throughout communities. However, while physical displays of hate found on Jewish institutions make a lasting impact on the community, we continue to be inspired by the resilience and collaboration of people from all backgrounds who respond with outpourings of support.”

As the Huntsville vandalism occurred at the start of Passover, members of several churches immediately flocked to the affected congregations to clean up the graffiti, despite it being Good Friday.

The year was dramatically impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led in some cases to Jews and other marginalized communities being blamed or scapegoated for spreading the virus. After the pandemic became more widespread starting in March, incidents of antisemitism at schools and colleges dropped precipitously as learning moved online.

This led to an increase in incidents of antisemitic “Zoombombing” — the intentional disruption of live videoconferences. In 2020, ADL recorded 196 incidents of antisemitic videoconferencing attacks. Of those incidents, 114 targeted Jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues.

“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,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director. “We can’t let our guard down. As communities begin to open up and people spend more time in person with others, we must remain vigilant.”