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Record tally of antisemitic incidents in 2021, Anti-Defamation League says

People attending rally against antisemitism
People attend a rally against antisemitism in Washington in July.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
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A Jewish civil rights organization’s annual tally of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached a record high last year, with a surge that coincided with the 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas militant group in Gaza, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Anti-Defamation League counted 2,717 antisemitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 2021, a 34% increase over the previous year and the highest number since the New York-based group began tracking such incidents in 1979.

More than 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the May 2021 war between Israel and Hamas. Israeli aircraft struck hundreds of targets in Gaza, while Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israel. The Israeli air force bombed and destroyed a 12-story tower that housed dozens of families as well as offices belonging to international news outlets.

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The ADL counted 297 antisemitic incidents between the May 10 start of military action and the end of the month, a 141% increase from the 123 incidents that it counted during the same period in 2020.

“The perpetrators of many of these incidents explicitly referred to the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” the report says.

Even when incidents with explicit references to Israel or Zionism are excluded, the organization said its tally of anti-Jewish incidents still increased by 46% during the last 20 days of May 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.

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“It’s alarming because the vitriol against the Jewish community is coming from all angles,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.

The ADL counted 15 antisemitic assaults between May 10 and May 30 of last year after counting none during the same period in 2020. The group said there is evidence that at least eight of those assaults were motivated by “anti-Israel/anti-Zionism sentiment.”

As an example, it cited a May 18 incident in which people in a caravan of cars and flying Palestinian flags attacked Jewish diners outside a Los Angeles restaurant.

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“The Palestinian supporters pushed one of the victims to the ground and kicked him. Soon after, a brawl erupted, and subsequent news reports indicated the attackers also hurled anti-Jewish slurs during the melee,” the ADL report says.

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The ADL also cited a May 20 incident in New York, where a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke was attacked on his way to a pro-Israel rally. His attackers yelled anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slurs while they punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed him, the report says.

The organization says its audit includes incidents of harassment, vandalism or assault that incorporated “anti-Israel and/or anti-Zionism themes” if they also express “classic anti-Jewish animus” or “demonize Jews as a group for real or perceived support of Israel.”

The 11-day war led to hundreds of anti-Israel protests and rallies in the U.S., the report says. But the group says its audit included only those events that “featured slogans or signs that directly linked their opposition to Israel or Zionism to all Jews or incorporated antisemitic tropes.”

The audit found that extremist groups or individuals, including white supremacists, were responsible for 484 incidents last year, up from 332 in 2020. The distribution of antisemitic fliers, banners, stickers or written messages accounted for most of those incidents. They also included acts of vandalism and bomb threats to Jewish institutions.

The group’s tally of total 2,717 incidents last year included 1,776 cases of harassment, a 43% increase from 1,242 in 2020. The ADL also counted a 14% increase in vandalism cases (from 751 in 2020 to 853 last year) and a 167% increase in assaults (from 33 in 2020 to 88 last year). The 88 assault incidents involved 131 victims, none of whom was killed, the report says.

The ADL says it compiles data for its annual audit by evaluating information reported by news media, victims, law enforcement and community leaders. The group says it avoids conflating general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism.

“However, Israel-related harassment of identifiable groups or individuals may be included when the harassment incorporated anti-Jewish references, accusations and/or conspiracy theories, or when American Jews are demonized for their real or perceived support of Israel,” the report says.

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