Crime, Law and Justice

Officials say hate crimes against Jews are growing in the aftermath of Gaza violence

Pro-Palestinian protesters face off with a group of Israel supporters and police in a clash that turned violent in Times Square last week in New York City.
Pro-Palestinian protesters face off with a group of Israel supporters and police in a clash that turned violent in Times Square last week in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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 anti-semitic 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 violence and abhorrent rhetoric has come both in-person and online. The Anti-Defamation League said that in the week after the fighting erupted, it received 193 reports of possible anti-semitic violence, up from 131 the week before. On Twitter, the group said, it found more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase "Hitler was right" between May 7 and May 14.

"We are witnessing a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate," the group's CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement last week just ahead of the cease-fire announced between Israel and Hamas. He added: "To those who choose to indulge in age-old antisemitic tropes, exaggerated claims, and inflammatory rhetoric, it has consequences: attacks in real life on real people targeted for no other reason than they are Jewish. This is antisemitism, plain and simple. And it's indisputably inexcusable in any context."

A cease-fire on Thursday brought an end, however tenuous, to fighting that left more than 230 Palestinians dead in Gaza, and killed at least 12 people in Israel. Yet despite the break in violence, several of the nation's most prominent Jewish organizations are warning that repercussions for Jews in the United States could be long-lasting.

"We fear that the way the conflict has been used to amplify antisemitic rhetoric, embolden dangerous actors and attack Jews and Jewish communities will have ramifications far beyond these past two weeks," read a letter sent to President Biden on Friday signed by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union and the women's group Hadassah.

The letter called on Biden, who helped broker the cease-fire, "to speak out forcefully against this dangerous trend and stand alongside the Jewish community in the face of this wave of hate before it gets any worse."

Amnesty International issued a similar call to condemn the violence, saying antisemitism attacks "the very notion of universal human rights."

"Intimidating worshipers at synagogues, defacing the Star of David, and using images and words that invoke antisemitic tropes is appalling and abusive, and when done in the name of protesting the actions of the Israeli government, belie the perpetrator's motives and do nothing to advance human rights," said Amnesty's executive director, Paul O'Brien, in a statement.

President Biden condemned the violence against the Jewish community in a Twitter post on Monday, calling it "despicable."

"I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad — it's up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor," Biden said.

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

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

In Los Angeles, authorities say they are investigating an attack on Jewish diners outside of a sushi restaurant by passersby who were reportedly seen wearing Palestinian flags and heard on video shouting "F*** you" and "You guys should be ashamed of yourselves." The shouting soon turned violent, devolving into kicking and punching. Salam Al-Marayat, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, condemned the incident, telling the Los Angeles Times the attackers "did not represent our community."

"They did not represent any of our organizations, and they definitely do not represent the Palestinian cause that we feel is just," said Al-Marayat.

The surge in anti-semitic incidents comes at a moment when such attacks were already elevated. In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League recorded more than 2,100 cases of assault, vandalism and harassment against Jews across the U.S., the most since tracking began in 1979. In 2020, the number was the third-highest on record, Greenblatt told The Washington Post, even as coronavirus shutdowns kept millions of Americans at home.

The latest uptick follows a familiar pattern of anti-semitic hate crimes in the aftermath of violent episodes between Israel and the Palestinians. Since data collection began in 1992, some of the worst months of the last three decades have come in response to conflict in the region, according to data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Muslims in the U.S. have also faced a spate of hate incidents over the last several weeks. In Brooklyn, a mosque was vandalized on the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan earlier this month with graffiti reading "Death 2 Palestine." Police are also investigating an incident at a mosque in Long Island last week in which a Muslim religious flag was burned and pro-Trump graffiti was spray-painted on the base of the flag.

Speaking on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 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.

"Antisemitism 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 got a serious problem of a nation which is being increasingly divided, being led by right-wing extremists in that direction."

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