ADL: Anti-Semitic incidents drop for 4th year


Although anti-Semitic incidents have declined nationwide for the fourth consecutive year, local totals of such occurrences have increased since 2007, according to figures released earlier this month by the Anti-Defamation League.

The national figures report 1,352 incidents in 2008, down from the 2007 figure of 1,460. The report divides occurrences into assaults, harassment, and vandalism. Vandalism represented more than half of the reports. The overall drop in incidents over the past four years can be attributed largely to a continuing decline in incidents of harassment, which have fallen from 1,177 in 2004 to only 613 last year.

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The data, which are compiled from 44 states and the District of Columbia, show that nearly three-fifths of all incidents occurred in only four states: New Jersey, California, New York and Florida. All but California, which posted 226 incidents, showed declines from 2007.

Locally, both Missouri and Illinois showed increases. Missouri had two instances of property damage and 12 incidents of harassment last year versus nine harassment incidents and one vandalism incident in 2007. No physical assaults were reported. Illinois had 22 incidents of harassment, 11 property damage reports and one physical assault in 2008. The previous year the state reported only 13 harassments and eight incidents of vandalism.

Karen Aroesty, regional director for the ADL of Missouri and Southern Illinois said that the report is “not a perfect science” but it does reflect general trends. She feels that often people don’t go public about anti-Semitic episodes and frequently prefer that no official action be taken because they fear publicity or the incident becoming part of a media controversy.

Aroesty said she has taken calls from people who are hesitant to take any formal steps to report incidents. “They basically just want advice and to talk,” she said.

Last year’s “Hit a Jew Day” incident at Parkway West Middle School, in which a few Jewish students were reportedly slapped or tapped lightly by classmates as part of a prank, is a prime example, she said. The episode garnered national media attention, yet Aroesty said it represented some of the problems inherent in deciding what constitutes genuine anti-Semitism. Aroesty termed the event a “teachable moment” rather than an anti-Semitic incident.

“We really did see it as a serious and very unfortunate set of incidents where the kids who are responsible really did not understand what they were doing nor did they understand the impact of their behavior,” she said.

According to Aroesty, other incidents reported to her office during the last year included:

* a diner at a local restaurant who alleged that he had been insulted by a manager for acting “just like a Jew” and had his tip refused by a waitress.

* an alleged incident of harassment by an individual at a St. Louis County high school against other students including possible anti-Semitic graffiti scratched onto a vehicle.

* a series of incidents in the University City area in which residents walking in the neighborhood reported being yelled at or pelted with eggs.

* a family in west St. Louis County who reported that Hanukkah decorations on their mailbox were vandalized,

While the national report was encouraging in the total number of incidents, Aroesty said that other disturbing trends were evident.

“It was down for what I consider to be assaults and harassment of individuals,” Aroesty said. “It was up on white supremacy, clearly up on white supremacy. Obviously, that’s something we are seeing all over the country right now.”

She said that Missouri has shown a dramatic increase in the number of white supremacy protests, rallies and leafleting this year and feels that activity by such groups has been largely driven by a poor economy, rising anti-immigrant sentiments, and the election of President Barack Obama which has created a focal point for white supremacist anger.

The Internet is another area of concern. Increasingly, such new threats as “cyber-bullying” in schools are receiving attention.

“The audit does not attempt to evaluate anti-Semitic Web sites and things that are online,” she said. “However, it does include anti-Semitic cyber bullying and harassing anti-Semitic e-mails when they target a specific person or a specific institution.”

View the ADL’s report online at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009