Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Skinhead Activity Up 180 Percent; Anti-semitic Incidents Set Record

January 18, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States reached their highest level of the decade last year, according to the annual audit compiled by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

In 1989, anti-Semitic occurrences in the United States rose to 1,432, the highest level since 1979, the year ADL began conducting the nationwide audit.

The 1,432 figure represents a nearly 12 percent increase over 1988, when the number of incidents totaled 1,281. This reflects the same pattern of increase shown the preceding year.

This increase is noteworthy, considering that it occurred despite the absence of two major factors that influenced the 1988 figures: the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht and the initial impact of the Palestinian uprising.

Dividing the incidents by category, the study reported 845 incidents of vandalism; 587 episodes of harassment, assaults and threats; a record 116 neo-Nazi Skinhead-attributed incidents (a 180 percent increase); and 69 college campus incidents.

The figures, said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, “are disturbing but not surprising,” in light of “the rise in hate-inspired violence generally around the country.

He added, however, that “there were more serious types of anti-Semitic vandalism and desecrations last year than ever recorded in ADL audits.”


The year 1989 saw the highest combined total of the most serious violent crimes, including arson, bombing and cemetery desecration (30 incidents). The high was attributed to increased activity on the part of racist, neo-Nazi Skinheads, and a 30 percent rise in incidents reported on college campuses.

The audit, compiled by the research department of ADL’s Civil Rights Division, reflects incidents in 44 states and the District of Columbia, as reported to ADL’s regional offices and to law enforcement officials.

New York state reported the highest level of anti-Semitic vandalism, with New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Florida following close behind. A number of incidents in these areas received considerable national attention in 1989.

New York also reported a high number of cases of harassment and assaults.

In Brooklyn, Max Kowalsky, a Holocaust survivor, was murdered in July after protesting against swastikas scrawled across his front door. And in October, on the eve of Yom Kippur, two Brooklyn College students were harassed and beaten on their way home from a fraternity party.

Incidents in Massachusetts, on the other hand, mainly involved vandalism.

In Marblehead, “Burn the Jews,” “Mengele” and “Belsen,” were found spray-painted on a synagogue and community center in July. On the eve of Yom Kippur, property in Wellesley was defaced by swastikas and neo-Nazi graffiti.

In California, numerous bombing incidents received national news coverage. The offices of the San Diego Jewish Times were firebombed in April and August, and in May, a firebomb was thrown into Beth Shalom Synagogue.

“The general nationwide increase in anti-Semitic acts demands an ever more forceful response through those means available,” the audit said, suggesting several steps for combatting the rise in hate crimes.

These include increased law enforcement and community counteraction and information programs; expanded educational efforts in the nation’s schools; more effective security measures in Jewish religious and cultural centers; stricter enforcement of existing anti-bias crime statutes; and consolidated lobbying on behalf of a national anti-bias crime law.

The proposed Hate Crime Statistics Act, now pending before the U.S. Senate and already passed in the House of Representatives, would mandate the Justice Department to collect and publish data on hate crimes motivated by ethnicity, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Forty-eight states now have statutes dealing with hate crimes.

Recommended from JTA