The number of anti-Semitic assaults, threats and harassments in the United States reported to the Anti-Defamation League rose again last year, continuing an upward trend begun in 1985 that was interrupted only in 1992.
The 1,079 incidents reported in 1993 are more than triple the 306 reported eight years earlier and the most since ADL began tabulating such events in 1980.
But the year also saw the third straight decline in the number of reported incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti. They totaled 788, according to the 1993 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents released by ADL this week.
ADL explains these numbers as reflecting a greater vigilance toward anti- Semitic vandalism by Jews and the police, on the one hand, and a greater willingness by anti-Semites to indulge their hatred in daylight.
“There’s been a dramatic increase in what we call `in-your-face’ anti- Semitism,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman.
“This is more frightening, more confrontational, more devastating, and in terms of the trauma to the individual, the family and the community affected, much more significant than a swastika on the building,” he said.
At the same time, the 1,079 reported anti-Semitic assaults and harassments, none of which involved a fatality, is roughly the same as the number of American Jews killed in car accidents, assuming traffic are distributed evenly along religious and ethnic lines.
Nonetheless, Foxman believes the audit, which he calls the most significant barometer of anti-Semitism in this country, has an important message.
“I remember when we first came out with the report and somebody said, `Big deal, in a country of 200 million people, there are 200 incidents,’” said Foxman.
“Tell that to the people affected,” he added. “What would be horrendous? How do you quantify it? I don’t think there’s a rampant epidemic, but it’s there, a sufficient numbers to be troublesome and disconcerting.
“The fact it continues to rise is also a troubling element,” he said.
It is unclear whether the increase reflects increased hatred or merely more thorough reporting of anti-Semitic attacks.
“We think it’s a constant,” said Foxman. “It’s the same coefficient of non- reporting.”
He believes that what is at play is an increasing tolerance of hatred in American society.
A similar explanation for the apparent contradiction between declining attitudes of anti-Semitism and the increasing number of anti-Semitic acts was offered by Jerome Chanes, co-director for domestic concerns of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
“Among those relatively few people who hold anti-Semitic attitudes or views or beliefs, there’s been a greater propensity in recent years to act out their beliefs,” said Chanes. He said this reflects a general “greater propensity for people to act out their beliefs.”
How people are acting out those beliefs, as reflected in the ADL survey, runs the gamut from a brick thrown through a window displaying a family’s Chanukah decorations in Billings, Mont., to a man yelling “Jew” at a mourner leaving a cemetery in Framingham, Mass.; from an anti-Semitic letter sent to a newly elected Denver City Council member to 25 cemetery desecrations, eight of them in Ohio.
The variety of incidents adds to the uncertainty surrounding the number: When hundreds of swastikas were painted on institutions and buildings in Washington, D.C. over two days, and when hundreds of anti-Semitic leaflets were delivered to Jews in Teaneck, N.J., each was counted as only one incident.
Still, certain trends seem clear.
The good news is that while neo-Nazi skinheads were proven responsible for a dozen incidents in eight states, that represents a substantial decline from five years ago.
“They’ve become more of a target for law enforcement,” said Foxman. He pointed out that eight of them were arrested for plotting to blow up a black church and assassinate black and Jewish leaders in Southern California.
Most of the skinheads’ criminal activity, according to ADL, was committed against black, Hispanic and gay targets, or against other rival skinhead groups.
But a clearly worrisome trend was the continued increase in incidents reported on campus.
There were 122 such incidents reported on 81 campuses, up from 114 on 60 campuses last year and more than double the 1988 figures.
These include high-profile anti-Semitism in the guise of academic discussion, such as speeches by Nation of Islam official Khalid Abdul Muhammad and advertisements placed in college newspapers by Holocaust denier Bradley Smith, as well as violent acts such as a brick thrown through the front window of the Hillel building at Michigan State University.
Also reported were dozens of swastikas scrawled in campus lavatories, in elevators and on bulletin boards.
For the third year in a row, the number of incidents of vandalism against public property outnumbered those against synagogues and other Jewish institutions by more than 2 to 1.
Interestingly, the volume of anti-Semitic vandalism – the most public and most widely reported sort of incident – has tracked a course over the 13 years that ADL has been issuing its audit rather similar to that of hard economic times.
The fewest reported incidents came in 1986, at the peak of the Reagan-era economic boom.
It rose again starting in 1987, the year of the stock market crash, and peaked in 1990 at the height of the economic recession.
In general, “there is a correlation: When the economy is down, there is greater crime. When there are more jobs, there is less time,” said Gerald Arenberg, executive director of the National Association of Chiefs of Police in Washington.
Foxman said that while historically the linkage between economic troubles and anti-Semitism is clear, “I’m not sure it’s susceptible to such precise fluctuations. These were dips and recessions. I’ll leave that to the sociologists.”
The increased attention being paid to security by the Jewish community and the increasing chance of prosecution for vandals “probably accounts for the downturn more than anything else,” he said.
And while two-thirds of the states now have laws increasing the penalties for hate crimes, “it’s too early to correlate the impact,” said Foxman.
He observed that many of the incidents are not in themselves crimes.
Not surprisingly, reported incidents were highest in the states with the most Jews: 273 in New York, 234 in New Jersey, 195 in Florida, 191 in California and 189 in Massachusetts.
Nevada, North Carolina and Arkansas had no reported anti-Semitic incidents.