National Security

US sees startling rise in antisemitic attacks

The U.S. is experiencing a rise in violent and disturbing attacks targeting the U.S. Jewish community amid the latest conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Reported attacks across the United States have led to a growing alarm and a series of condemnations from President Biden, Vice President Harris, members of Congress and local officials.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says reporting of antisemitic incidents has jumped 63 percent since the start of an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that received heavy media coverage in the United States and around the world.

A number of factors appear to have contributed to the attacks, most notably the new conflict in the Middle East.

Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, fired more than 4,400 rockets indiscriminately into Israel between May 10 and 21, killing at least 13 people and sending millions into bomb shelters. More than 200 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israel’s bombing campaign to erode Hamas’s military capabilities.

Some of the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, recorded on cellphone video and documented by Jewish advocacy organizations, include reports of assaults on Jewish diners in Los Angeles last week by a group of men reportedly waving Palestinian flags and cursing Jews. Police on Saturday announced they had arrested one of the primary suspects on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, and prosecutors are seeking additional charges for hate crimes.

In New York, police are reportedly investigating as a hate crime an assault on a 29-year-old Jewish man who was punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed by assailants reportedly cursing Jews and Israel.  

Outside Chicago, police are investigating as a hate crime an attack against the Persian Hebrew Congregation in Skokie, where a window was broken and assailants left a sign reading “Freedom for Palestine” outside. 

The ADL has also kept track of antisemitism and support for terror among nationwide protests in support of Palestinians, with demonstrators in multiple cities brandishing signs comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. 

Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said it’s hardly uncommon for a flare-up in tensions between Israel and Palestine to lead to attacks on Jewish people elsewhere.

“That’s sort of the worst part and in some ways the most predictable part — seeing all Jews blamed for the policies of Israel, and that’s antisemitism and a standard practice,” he said. 

Those incidents are being compounded by an uptick of antisemitic speech online, with the ADL finding 17,000 tweets between May 7 and 14 with some variation of the phrase “Hitler was right.”

But Segal also said the trend is being exacerbated by social media and disinformation campaigns that gained a foothold amid record-breaking reports of antisemitism during the Trump administration. 

“In that sense, there being an uptick is not new, but I think what is particularly concerning is that, unlike in the past, you have a whole range of social platforms that people are getting their information from that are being exploited by campaigns of antisemitism,” he said.

The recent attacks on Jews are also being viewed as the most violent expression of a growing solidarity movement for Palestinian national aspirations that are boosted by an increased focus on racial and social justice in the U.S. in general. 

This movement, which has support among an increasing number of progressive members of Congress and advocacy groups, calls for Israel to be held accountable for what they say are, at minimum, violations of international law and, at worst, war crimes. 

On Monday, more than 500 Biden campaign staffers urged the White House to do more to support Palestinian rights and hold the Israeli government accountable. 

“We ask that you work to end the underlying conditions of occupation, blockade, and settlement expansion that led to this exceptionally destructive period in a 73-year history of dispossession and ethnic cleansing,” the letter read.

That rhetoric is being viewed as part of the fuel inflaming the most recent spate of attacks on the American Jewish community. 

“There is, I think, a view that if you speak of Israel as a racist enterprise, as a state that is enforcing apartheid, if you talk about ethnonationalism, if you talk about ethnic cleansing and genocide, all of these outrageous charges that one hears from voices on the far left, it can, illegitimately, tie into the racial justice movement sensibilities that were so evident, especially in the last year,” said Jason Isaacson, chief policy and political affairs officer with the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy organization.

J Street, an advocacy organization that is critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, issued a statement Monday condemning as antisemitic attacks on the American Jewish community that are based on criticisms of Israel. 

“It must be absolutely clear that verbal or violent attacks targeting Jewish people based on the actions or alleged actions of the Israeli government are antisemitic and outrageous,” the group said in its statement. 

“It should be obvious that such acts of hate do nothing to advance Palestinian rights, and in fact only undermine important, legitimate advocacy and activism on behalf of the Palestinian people and in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace and equality,” the group added.

J Street is supportive of calls by prominent progressive lawmakers such as Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian American to serve in Congress; Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.); and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), to impose conditions on U.S. military assistance to Israel. 

Such a move is viewed as a first step among progressive activists to remove American support for what they say are Israeli policies that contribute to the displacement and killing of Palestinians.

Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez, along with eight other progressive lawmakers, spoke on the House floor on May 13 and, citing other criticisms of Israel, called it an “apartheid” state — a serious charge of systemic racism and segregation that the Biden administration and Israeli government reject.  

Progressive activists view those speeches, the outcry over the Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip and the current social justice climate as a historic opportunity to shift the U.S. relationship with Israel.

But Isaacson, of AJC, warns that those arguments often miss the nuance of calls from the majority of members of Congress who support Israel’s right to exist and Palestinian rights to self-determination. 

“There is a lot of superficiality and a lot of ignorance of history and blatant antagonism toward Jews that bubbles forth, and in the minds of certain activists, it justifies violence,” he said.

“One must ask of persons in positions of responsibility to be very careful about the way they mischaracterize this conflict,” he added.

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center (OU), said the most recent spate of attacks against the Jewish community and inspired by the violence in the Middle East is “deeply disturbing” and unlike anything he’s witnessed before. 

The OU, along with four of the largest major American Jewish organizations, sent a letter to Biden on Friday expressing “grave concern” over the rise in antisemitic attacks and called for the president to take a number of critical steps.

They said he should appoint an ambassador to monitor and combat antisemitism, reestablish the position of White House Jewish liaison, hold a White House conversation on antisemitism with stakeholders, preserve protections for students against antisemitism and invest in security enhancements for religious institutions. 

“Most people feel that this rise in antisemitism is … because those with antisemitic views feel more free to express them or, again, sadly, as we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, act upon them,” Diament said.

“Relevant committees of Congress should be having hearings about antisemitism just like they did about the anti-Asian crimes recently, and leaders need to speak out and articulate what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” Diament added.

–Updated on May 25 at 11:12 a.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Antisemitism Benjamin Netanyahu Ilhan Omar Israel Israel-Palestinian conflict Joe Biden Rashida Tlaib

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