Pittsburgh flowers

One of several shrines near the cordoned off area surrounding Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. | CJN Photo  / Jane Kaufman

The Oct. 27, 2018 shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation marked a change not only in the thinking of Jews about anti-Semitism, but also in the actions of white supremacists and others against Jews.

In addition, in the year since the shootings that killed 11 and injured six, the Anti-Defamation League counted 12 arrests of white supremacists across the country, a dozen instances of vandalism and 35 distributions of white supremacist propaganda, according to an Oct. 18 blog post.

An American Jewish Committee-commissioned telephone survey of American Jews on attitudes about anti-Semitism found that 38% of those surveyed identified anti-Semitism as a “very serious problem.” Half of those surveyed identified it as “somewhat of a problem.” Some 10% told researchers that anti-Semitism was “not much of a problem,” and 2% said it was “not a problem at all.”

AJC survey

The telephone survey of 1,283 American Jews took place from Sept. 11 to Oct. 26. SSRS of Glen Mills, Pa., conducted the survey.

Lee C. Shapiro, AJC Cleveland regional director, said the decision to conduct the survey came directly out of FBI statistics showing anti-Semitic acts are on the rise.

“This survey, which is the largest and comprehensive of its kind – I would call it groundbreaking – really wanted to look at the way in which American Jews personally experienced and perceived anti-Semitism,” she said. “And so the results of this are quite sobering. But now we have statistical data and information that can provide a foundation for continuing conversations and our advocacy work in the way in which we talk to policymakers to combat scourge of anti-Semitism and hate.”

In the AJC survey, 84% of respondents said anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years, with 43% saying it has increased “a lot” and 41% saying it has increased “somewhat.”

“That statistic or that concern cuts across all demographics,” Shapiro said.

In addition, 42% of those surveyed said the status of Jews was “less secure” than it was a year ago.

Shapiro said there were other findings that she found interesting.

“I thought that it was shocking that almost a third, 31%, have taken steps to hide their Jewish identity in public,” she said. “So whether or not it is tucking a Star of David or a Chai away, or taking off a kippot or not having a siddur or something with them, they’ve tried to conceal their Jewishness. … And I also think it’s notable that young people were more likely to conceal that, with almost 1 in 4 – (and) almost 40% of young people 18 to 29.”

She found it interesting as well that most of those surveyed see a correlation with anti-Israel statements and anti-Semitism, again pointing out that 78% in the youngest demographic hold that belief.

Finally, Shapiro found it intriguing that American Jews see the sources of anti-Semitism arising from a multitude of sources: “(the) far right, hard left and from extremists who act in the name of Islam.”

ADL data

In its Oct. 18 blog, the ADL said in the year since the Pittsburgh shootings, white supremacists have targeted Jewish institutions’ property “at least 50 times.”

White supremacist rallies have been held “outside AIPAC offices and Israeli consulates, and even disrupted a Holocaust remembrance event in Arkansas by waving swastika flags, holding anti-Semitic posters and shouting anti-Semitic slurs and phrases, including, ‘Six million more,’” the blog stated.

Among the 12 arrests in the ADL list was that of Damon Joseph, of Holland, Ohio, who in December 2018 was arrested by the FBI after he allegedly plotted synagogue shootings in Greater Toledo.

“Joseph cited Tree of Life assailant Robert Bowers as a source of inspiration,” the ADL said in the blog post.

The ADL’s list did not include the arrest of James P. Reardon of New Middletown, Ohio, who identified himself as a white nationalist and has been indicted in federal court for using a firearm while making threats against a Jewish community center.

He is accused of tagging the Youngstown Jewish Community Center in a video in which he is depicted holding an assault rifle. It began with Reardon stating “(expletive) a life.” He then held the rifle in multiple firing positions with audio of gunshots and sound effects of sirens and people screaming added into the background, according to the legal complaint.

The ADL counted 30 additional incidents at “Jewish institutions that (were) anti-Semitic or generally hateful, but not explicitly white supremacist in nature,” according to the blog. “These incidents include the shooting of an elderly man outside a synagogue in Miami, fires set at multiple Jewish institutions in New York and Massachusetts, Molotov cocktails thrown at synagogue windows in Chicago, damaged menorahs in Georgia and New Jersey, as well as a wide range of anti-Semitic graffiti.”

In addition, the ADL tracked 785 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2019, five more than in the same period of 2018 and 15 plots, attacks or threats against Jews by extremists.

A broader view

Howie Beigelman, executive director at Ohio Jewish Communities in Columbus, was not surprised by the findings of the two data collections.

“We live in dangerous times,” he wrote in an email to the Cleveland Jewish News. “This survey by AJC and the report by ADL corroborate what we are seeing and feeling locally, across the state, throughout the USA, and around the world. Arrests in Toledo and Youngstown, along with convictions in Cleveland and Cincinnati are unfortunately, unneeded reminders of how dangerous it is for Jews and others, even here in Ohio. Those who hate and are violent feel emboldened to act.”

While just 2% of those surveyed by AJC said they have been the target of a physical anti-Semitic attack over the last five years, 10% said they have been the target of an anti-Semitic remark over the phone, in person or by mail, and 13% said they have been the target of more than one such anti-Semitic remark over the last five years.

When asked about social media, 5% of respondents said they have been the target of a single anti-Semitic remark in the last five years and 15% said they have been the target of such remarks more than once.

A total of 75% of those who had been the target of an anti-Semitic physical attack or remark did not report the incident to either police or a Jewish organization. Of the 24% who did report attacks, 3% said they went to police, 6% said they went to Jewish organizations and 11% said they reported the incident on social media.

Beigelman said the reporting rate of anti-Semitic incidents is of concern.

“The reporting rate of attacks is far too low,” he said. “Our community must report every incident to our own communal agencies and to law enforcement. They can’t help us if they are out of the loop. Government can’t respond to a need they don’t know about. “

Beigelman also wrote of the need for enhanced security.

“Our communities must be full partners in this work,” he wrote. “In collaboration with SCN (Secure Community Network), other national and regional partners, we can step up training and knowledge to empower every one of us (to) keep safe and to react the right way when we need to."

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