Hanukkah attack highlights disturbing rise of anti-Semitic violence

The shocking attack on a Jewish community celebrating Hanukkah in suburban New York on Saturday brings to a close a deadly year for Jews in the U.S.

Anti-Semitic attacks that have become more frequent, sinister and deadly are showing no signs of abating as the year closes.

The perpetrators of these violent acts, from murder to intimidation, span the spectrum of anti-Semitism and fail to fall into a predictable pattern of perpetrators.

Some are motivated by white nationalism, while others have been aggrieved black separatists, radicalized Islamists and conspiracy theorists.

Prosecutors on Monday filed federal hate crime charges against the Harlem man who is charged with attacking and stabbing five people among the crowd gathered at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York.

Community members say not enough is being done to prevent such attacks.

“This is not only a wake-up call, but this just highlights the fact that we are only a reactionary society,” said Jacob Kornbluh, a journalist for Jewish Insider and member of an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.

Nearly every day over the week of Hanukkah, members of the community have reported anti-Semitic verbal and physical assaults. Orthodox Jews, easily identified based on their appearance and dress, are some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

“We’ve been promised protection and security for a while,” Kornbluh said, “This is only the first day I can measure if there is any heightened police presence. … People feel it’s only a [Band-Aid] on a large open wound.”

On a day of statements of solidarity by elected officials and commitments of increased security, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for a quadrupling of federal funding to $360 million for a security grant program.

The program provides funds for nonprofit organizations — typically religious institutions and specifically Jewish organizations — that can help finance security measures ranging from surveillance cameras and extra lighting in parking lots to armed security guards and reinforced doors. 

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, who spearheaded the creation of the nonprofit security grant program beginning in 2005, said Schumer’s goal is far more reflective of the need for the program. Congress currently appropriates just $90 million for it.

“What Sen. Schumer is proposing is actually, unfortunately, more realistic with the level of demand and need in the current situation,” Diament said. “We did not imagine the nightmare that we’re living through today.”

The attack in Monsey comes almost three weeks after a targeted attack on Jews in a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., where three people and a police officer were killed.

Jewish holidays in the U.S. are increasingly being marked by atrocities. On the final day of Passover in April, a 19-year-old gunman entered a synagogue in Poway, Calif., killing one woman and injuring three others.

During Saturday morning prayers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, 11 worshipers were murdered and six wounded by a gun-wielding assailant who reportedly spouted anti-Semitic insults during the attack and had earlier targeted Jews on social media.

Attacks have also taken place on other denominations.

Diament highlighted the shooting attack in a church in Texas on Sunday and an increase in attacks on mosques and Sikh temples.

“It does demonstrate that we have a much greater need. Even the $90 million, what we were able to get for the current year, is also half of the amount of applications that came in last year,” he said.

The rise in anti-Semitic violence and crime is particularly alarming.

In 2018, nearly 60 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were inspired by hatred toward Jews, according to federal data.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents being reported over the past few years is increasing, said Oren Segel, director of the center on extremism for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which recorded 1,879 incidents in 2018.

The number represents “near-historic levels” of harassment, vandalism and murder of Jews in the U.S., with sharp increase in violent assaults.

“The mainstreaming of anti-Semitism and the violent incidents that are occurring — and it seems at a more rapid pace — I think makes this moment a little different and concerning,” Segel said.

“Most incidents that we collect are not related to any extremist movement or group. It’s your average Joes, average Janes, if you will, that are vandalizing a synagogue or putting swastikas in the park.”

The attacker in Pittsburgh and the gunman in Poway were both alleged to be influenced by a white nationalist ideology, while authorities have said that the attackers in Jersey City were extremists on the fringe of a black nationalistic movement that is anti-white and anti-Semitic.

Police said the assailant on the Jewish community in Monsey, an African American man from Harlem, had written journals espousing anti-Semitic beliefs, referencing Hitler, Nazi culture, the Star of David and the swastika.

The internet has allowed for the mass proliferation of anti-Semitic content, at times shockingly blunt but also disguised as irony and humor and packaged into shareable memes. The ADL recorded approximately 4.2 million anti-Semitic social media posts shared between 2017 and 2018.

“When you think about combating anti-Semitism in 2019, the strategies and the conversation often has to start with what is occurring online,” Segal said.

“What is required, and this is what we’ve done at the ADL, is to reach out to these companies and, first, educated them about what anti-Semitism is and, second, provide them with some tools,” Segal added.

Segal said the ADL maintains a database of hate symbols and instructions on how to identify extremist symbols that can be built into artificial intelligence identifying hate on such platforms.

“Some are trying. Some are not trying at all, like when we get to the 8chans and those sort of forums,” Segal said, referring to a website that is a destination for extremist ideologies and plotting of violent attacks. “But I don’t think it’s unreasonable, not only for organizations like ADL, but for people more broadly to expect that these companies do more to make it more difficult for anti-Semitism to spread on their platforms.”

Tags anti-semitism Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer

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