WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (JTA) — The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in the United States has declined for the second straight year, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit. In 1996, 1,722 incidents were reported to the ADL — 121 fewer than in 1995, signifying a 7 percent drop. But while harassment, threat or assault declined from 1,116 incidents to 941, about a 15 percent drop, the number of acts of anti-Semitic vandalism increased from 727 incidents to 781, a 7 percent jump. ADL officials read good news into the numbers, which show anti-Semitic activity to be at its lowest level since 1990. The two-year drop, moreover, marks the first multiyear decline of anti-Semitic incidents in 10 years. It represents a significant shift since 1994, when anti-Semitic activity reached a record high of 2,066 incidents. “It tells us that the combination of law enforcement action and educational outreach is an effective one-two counterpunch that is reaping results in the traditional arenas where anti-Semites are active,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL national director. The report, however, said the proliferation of hate activity on the Internet had made it more difficult to track and quantify anti-Semitism. “Electronic hate is the dark side of technology, and anti-Semites have particularly taken to the medium,” Foxman said. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the past year has seen an “absolute explosion of hate sites on the Internet.” His organization now counts more than 400. “We’re looking at the emergence of a subculture of hate on the Internet, and that unfortunately means that the potential pool of young people into these particular groups is much broader.” In its report, ADL distinguishes between acts of vandalism and those of harassment, threat and assault. While acts of anti-Semitic vandalism increased in 1996, attacks against Jewish institutions actually declined by 20 percent — a phenomenon that Foxman attributes in part to the “security consciousness” of the Jewish community. Of the 781 reported acts of anti-Semitic vandalism, 407 involved defaced public property. Only 117 were attacks against Jewish institutions, and the remaining 257 were directed against private Jewish property. Foxman said that last year’s increase could be attributed to the enhanced security at Jewish institutions, making vandals more likely to deface other property. The attacks against Jewish property included: * More than 60 grave markers were toppled at a Jewish cemetery in East Haven, Conn., one day before Rosh Hashanah. * Two Arizona synagogues were attacked on the night after the anniversary of Kristallnacht. A window was broken at one site, and at the other, a Molotov cocktail hurled at a window was extinguished before causing major damage. * A small bomb detonated at the door of a Jewish center in New York City. No one was hurt, and the incident caused only minor damage. The ADL also cites a broad spectrum of anti-Semitic incidents involving harassment, threats or assault. They range from intimidating or hostile anti-Semitic comments made in passing to violent attacks in which anti-Semitic bias was the motive. * In Milwaukee, two men entered a synagogue and began shooting a BB gun at congregants during a morning minyan. * In Washington, D.C., a voice mail message was left at the home of an employee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It said: “Just looking for a kike designer. I understand they are gutting crematoriums.” * In Highland Park, outside Chicago, multiple bomb threats were phoned in against a Jewish community center-sponsored basketball league that met in school gyms. The audit is based on reports made to the ADL and law enforcement agencies by 41 states and the District of Columbia. Nine states reported no anti-Semitic incidents. Those states were South Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, West Virginia, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas and Mississippi. States with large Jewish populations continued to experience the highest levels of anti-Semitic activity. Last year, 328 incidents were reported in New York, 238 in New Jersey, 186 in California, 123 in Florida and 106 in Massachusetts. California experienced the biggest decline, with a 30 percent drop in anti-Semitic activity. Other findings contained in the report include: * Anti-Semitic incidents reported on college campuses declined by about 25 percent in 1996 to the lowest level since 1990. In particular, ADL noted the lack of Holocaust denial advertisements submitted to campus newspapers. The development, however, may simply reflect a shift in tactics, according to the report. With Holocaust deniers now posting materials on the Internet, the debate over ads has been replaced by debate over the First Amendment rights of Holocaust-denial sites on the World Wide Web, the ADL said. * The number of anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated by skinheads declined from 17 to 10. While ADL noted several positive trends in the battle against anti-Semitism, Kenneth Stern, program specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism at the American Jewish Committee, cautioned against trying to read too much into the tea leaves from one year to the next. “Anti-Semitic incidents are only part of the package,” he said, noting that the proliferation of hate and anti-government extremist groups continues to pose a long-term threat to the “security of Jews and the vibrancy of American democracy.” “It’s a gauge, but it’s not the only thing we should be concerned about,” Stern said. In conjunction with the release of the audit, ADL officials were scheduled to hold a series of meetings Wednesday with top administration officials and members of Congress. Officials were set to meet with Education Secretary Richard Riley to discuss ways to combat anti-Semitism through educational programs. They were also scheduled to meet with Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh to discuss ways to increase local law enforcement participation in providing data under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. Similar discussions were planned with Sens. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
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