The easy interpretation of the spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the Southeast and across the country since November is that the election of Donald Trump has unleashed forces of hate that had been driven ever deeper underground the previous half-century.
That view might be accurate, but it tends to focus too much on the “alt-right” and fails to capture the scariest element of the statistics recently released by the Anti-Defamation League.
Before the bad news, however, there is a positive in the ADL’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents: Violence against American Jews and Jewish institutions is on the decline. The ADL counted 36 anti-Semitic assaults in 2016, down from 56 in 2015, and six in the first quarter of 2017, compared with 10 in the first three months of 2016. No one was killed in 2016 or the first part of 2017.
In addition, Allison Padilla-Goodman of the ADL’s New Orleans office told a conference call organized by the American Jewish Press Association on Thursday, April 27, that the ADL’s poll of anti-Semitic attitudes, as opposed to actions, hasn’t seen much change: a rise from 12 percent to 14 percent of Americans.
Unfortunately, those findings mean that 34 million Americans harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. For the first time, Padilla-Goodman said, the ADL also found a majority fearing violence against Jews.
The outbreak of bomb threats against Jewish institutions this year skewed the numbers and the perceptions. Until Israeli-American teenager Michael Kadar was arrested in Ashkelon on March 23, we had every reason to fear that a terrible act of violence was imminent and that, at the very least, anti-Semites were taking a cruel delight in disrupting and terrorizing the children attending preschools, day schools and Jewish community centers.
Remove the hoax threats blamed on Kadar, however, and the real danger for Jewish youths emerges. As cited by interim ADL Southeast Regional Director Shelley Rose with the audit’s release and reiterated by Padilla-Goodman, anti-Semitic harassment and vandalism are surging at non-Jewish schools, public and private, serving kindergarten through 12th grade.
In 2015, 105 such incidents were reported all year across the country. The ADL counted 95 of them in just the first three months of 2017.
Those are only the actions that are reported. We don’t know how many Jewish children just take the abuse for fear of making it worse, out of concern of violating a code of silence or from uncertainty about how to respond.
But we do know Jewish students are being harassed in metro Atlanta. We’ve launched a reporting project, led by staff writer Sarah Moosazadeh, to better understand the problem our children are facing; if you have a story to tell, please contact Sarah at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing the value of the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism. Its Facebook group, now with more than 4,200 members, is a place where incidents have been discussed and where worried parents have found support.
AIAAS also is the kind of coalition Padilla-Goodman cheered as an exciting response to the rise in anti-Semitic and other hate-based activities. Such coalitions within and across communities have the reach and the potential to alert the public to the dangers we face and to force people such as school principals and superintendents to act, not just to talk.