Monitor hate crimes, as promised

By Gidon Van Emden, JTA

WASHINGTON — How much homophobia is there? And how much anti-Semitism? How many Muslims are beaten up because of who they are?

The only accurate answer today is, “We don’t know.” Organizations that combat hate and bigotry do not know how many crimes were committed with a hateful motive because such incidents are not being monitored properly.

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A recent study by CEJI-A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe shows that most hate crimes watchdogs in Europe do not know how many incidents there are. They are working with anecdotal data culled from the media and the occasional phone call. Such sources, while important for their illustrative value, are neither consistent nor usually as detailed as they should be. (Full disclosure: I used to work for CEJI and helped launch this study.)

Indeed, the 56 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an international organization of which the United States is a founding member, promised in 2003 in Vienna to start gathering data on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic ones. Today, nearly a decade later, a meager five of those states submitted data on anti-Semitic incidents, according to the latest OSCE report. The United States was not one of them.

To be sure, this reflects the situation in America, as noted in a report by the Anti-Defamation League: “Eighty of the largest cities in the United States — all over 100,000 in population — either did not report data to the FBI in 2010 or affirmatively reported zero hate crimes to the FBI in 2010.”

This means that organizations such as the ADL do not have consistent usable data on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic ones. Consistent, comparable, year-on-year, disaggregated data can only come from law enforcement and the judiciary. As long as our police forces and our departments of justice do not comply with their own promises and commitments, we do not – cannot – know what the state of affairs is and whether the trends are up or down.

We cannot know whether America is becoming more or less tolerant — not only in attitude, but also in action – toward LGBT people, toward Muslims. We cannot know whether life is safer for Jews around the globe.

So in practice, we cannot know whether such excellent programs as CEJI’s Belieforama or the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute actually have the impact they are intended to have. Without knowing whether there is less or more anti-Semitism today than a year ago, we cannot know how worried we should be about our future — for worry we will in any case.

Just as businesses measure their success by collecting data on how many hamburgers or sneakers they have sold, by comparing this year’s data to last year’s and their sales to those of their competitors, so too should hate crimes be properly monitored. The U.S. government, with its 55 partners in the OSCE, has committed itself to doing this. We must press our governments to keep their promises.

(Gidon van Emden is a consultant in the fields of human rights, international affairs and anti-Semitism.)

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