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Anti-Semitic incidents rising in Illinois, at high levels in U.S.: New ADL audit

Flowers and mementos are left Monday, April 29, 2019 in Poway, California, outside the funeral for Lori Gilbert Kaye, who was killed inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue by a gunman who opened fire during services. | Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, welcomed reporters to a briefing Tuesday about the high levels of U.S. anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, he said, “ I wish it weren’t so timely.”

Sadly, the release of the ADL’s annual “audit of anti-Semitic incidents” is more pertinent, coming — by coincidence — after a gunman opened fire during a Saturday Passover service at the Chabad of Poway, a synagogue near San Diego, California, killing a woman and injuring three others.

The Poway shootings came exactly six months after the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a shooter killed 11 worshippers and injured two others. Four law enforcement officers were also shot in what Greenblatt called “the single deadliest attack on Jews in American history.”

“Last year the U.S. Jewish community again experienced near historic levels of anti-Semitism,” Greenblatt said.

In Illinois, the trend is disturbing, with incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault all up since 2015.

“While these heightened levels of hate in Illinois may be the new normal, we must all work together to ensure that hate never becomes normalized,” Jessica Gall, co-interim regional director at ADL Midwest told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The man charged with the Tree of Life of massacre shouted anti-Semitic slurs, prosecutors said, while police said the suspect accused of the Poway shootings — or someone pretending to be him — posted an anti-Semitic and Islamophobic white nationalist manifesto on social media.

In the entire U.S. in 2018, there were 1,879 incidents, with the ADL defining harassment as when “a Jewish person or group of people feel harassed by the perceived anti-Semitic words, spoken or written, or actions of another person or group.”

Vandalism is when there is property “damaged in a manner that indicates the presence of anti-Semitic animus or in a manner that attacks Jews for their religious affiliation”; an assault occurs when there is an attack on a body.

The audit, “just one barometer that we used to track anti-Semitism in the U.S.” does not address the explosion of online hate.

Here are the national numbers for 2018:

•There were 1,066 cases of harassment up from 1,015 in 2017.

•There were 774 cases of vandalism, a decrease from 952 in 2017.

•There were 39 cases of assault, an increase from 19 in 2017.

“American Jews, on the whole, have lived more comfortably in the last half-century than any other Diaspora Jewish community in history,” the report noted. “But we at ADL have grown increasingly concerned as the Audit has revealed a disturbing uptick in incidents over the past three years.”

In Illinois the numbers from the past four years tell a depressing story.

•In 2015 there were seven harassment incidents in Illinois compared to nine in 2016; 25 in 2017 and 31 in 2018.

•In 2015 there were seven acts of anti-Semitic vandalism compared to one in 2016; 22 in 2017 and 19 in 2019.

•Last year marked the first time an anti-Semitic assault was recorded in Illinois.

That’s the dismal picture in Illinois: In total, 14 anti-Semitic incidents in 2015; 10 in 2016; 47 in 2017 and 51 in 2018.

A higher profile Chicago-area incident took place in November, when a swastika appeared on the locker of a Jewish student at the Oscar Mayer Magnet School in Lincoln Park.

Also in November, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was found at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

“As we have said at the ADL many times before, Jews are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the state of hate generally in society,” Greenblatt said, pointing to Muslim and immigrant bashing, with white supremacists “emboldened like never before.

“As you saw in Poway, there are real concerns about where we’re headed as a country and as a society. How do we put the lid back on the source of hate? First and foremost, it is incumbent for our leaders at all levels to lead, to speak out to really denounce anti-Semitism and hate not only after an attack or a crisis. But long before there is a problem.”