The Best Way to Deal With a Spike in Anti-Semitism

Jewish Light Editorial

A new report confirms with hard numbers a concern that has persisted since last year’s heated presidential campaign: a rise in both the number and the severity of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. Everyone concerned needs to take note of the increase and take steps to deal with it. 

The annual audit (bit.ly/ADL-Audit2017) of the Anti-Defamation League, the premier American organization focused on tracking and combatting all forms of bigotry, has reliable statistics that show a marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents. The research shows that such instances rose by one-third last year and, alarmingly, shot up 86 percent in the first three months this year.

The study shows a big increase in the harassment of Jews, predominantly since November. At least 34 incidents were linked to the presidential election that month, the ADL reports.

In all, the agency found 1,266 acts that targeted Jews and Jewish groups last year, a 34 percent increase in incidents of assaults, vandalism and harassment over 2015. For the first quarter of this year, there are preliminary reports of 541 anti-Semitic incidents.

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Such chilling statistics confirm our worst fears. It is not collective paranoia or an overreaction to the heated rhetoric of the most divisive election in memory. Anti-Semitism is indeed on the rise in America, with disturbing incidents occurring almost daily, from anti-Jewish graffiti to physical assaults.

Our 60,000-member Jewish community is hardly an exception. In recent months, we have endured nationally and globally significant attacks on Jewish institutions. 

At the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, 154 headstones were toppled in mid-February in an incident that attracted national and even worldwide media coverage. That incident, widely seen as anti-Semitism, remains unsolved. The University City Police Department continues to investigate the incident. We hope that at the appropriate time, all official reports and other evidence, including surveillance videos, will be released to the public.

The St. Louis Jewish Community Center, along with other JCCs across the country, received bomb threats that forced evacuations of children and adults and spurred fear among everyone at those facilities. It turned out that neither of the prime suspects in the JCC incidents was specifically motivated by anti-Semitism, which underscores that it is unwise to jump to conclusions or panic until all the facts are known. But the anguish that the threats prompted remained very real.

If there is a silver lining in the new reality of increasing anti-Semitism, it can be found in the outpouring of interfaith support since the cemetery desecration.  

After a plea from Eric Greitens, Missouri’s first Jewish governor who had taken office just weeks before, about 2,500 Jews, Christians, Muslims and others came to the cemetery to set right nearly all of the gravestones and left the site looking better than it had in years.

We must also thank our local ADL, so capably led by Karen Aroesty, and our law enforcement officers who are providing increased security at Jewish organizations, synagogues and temples. Six local police officials actually traveled to Israel recently to learn new techniques of responding to terrorism as well as to gain a firsthand understanding of the tense atmosphere that the nation routinely experiences (bit.ly/police-israel-trip). 

No one should ignore the increase in anti-Semitism; neither should anyone react in ways that do more harm than good. The worst response to increased anti-Semitism would be to give the bigots a victory by living in fear. 

St. Louis area residents have far more to be grateful for than to fear. Education, vigilance and leading by example are the best and most effective deterrents.

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