The print version of this story featured an incorrect headline that said that antisemitism stats declined in 2019, rather than 2020.
Pennsylvania experienced a slight decrease in antisemitic incidents in 2020 relative to 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.
The annual audit, released on April 27, recorded 101 incidents — 70 harassment incidents, 29 vandalism reports and two cases of assault. In 2019, there were 109 incidents, with slightly fewer harassment cases, many more vandalisms and one fewer assault.
The audit included some specific incidents (the full list is publicly available at adl.org/heat-map.) The list includes incidents like a youth hockey coach in Northampton County who called 10-year-old Jewish players “dirty Jews” in the handshake line, and a sign in front of a Philadelphia synagogue that was defaced with a drawing of a swastika and the messages “Long live Hitler” and “Jews are scum.”
While the 101 incidents in 2020 represents a slight decrease, it is still the third-highest number of antisemitic incidents in Pennsylvania reported to the ADL since the organization began tracking them in 1979.
“The main takeaway is that the news is still not good,” said Shira Goodman, regional director of ADL Philadelphia. “We still seem to have this climate where hate is emboldened, where people who harbor antisemitic attitude seem emboldened to take action.”
And Yael Rabin, a data analyst with the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said the rate at which antisemitic incidents were being recorded prior to the pandemic suggests that the imposed isolation seems to have leveled off what was shaping up to be a year where many more incidents would have been recorded.
“If it weren’t for the pandemic, or stay-at-home measures, it probably would have continued to increase,” Rabin said. “Not just with the harassment, but with vandalism as well.”
For the second straight year, Pennsylvania had the nation’s fifth-highest number of antisemitic incidents, according to the audit. The Keystone State trailed only New York (336), New Jersey (295), California (289) and Florida (127) in total incidents. Within Pennsylvania, the greatest number of incidents took place in Philadelphia County (39), followed by Montgomery (17), Delaware (eight), Lehigh (five) and Allegheny (five).
The national findings were released at an April 27 Zoom webinar, during which the ADL reported 2,024 incidents against American Jews during 2020, down 4% from 2019. That was still the third-highest year for incidents against Jews nationwide since 1979, said Deb Leipzig, ADL’s vice president of leadership.
“The pandemic changed life as we know it, but it didn’t stop hate,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, adding that the stats showed an average of more than five antisemitic acts per day.
“Antisemites are elusive,” he said. “Anti-Jewish hate is often thought of as the oldest hatred. It is really the most persistent virus because it adapts and mutates and finds new vulnerabilities to exploit for spreading its toxin.”
Zoombombing is a new medium for antisemitism, Greenblatt said, and is partly responsible for a 40% increase in incidents at Jewish institutions compared to 2019.
In Pennsylvania, there were 10 antisemitic Zoombombing incidents in 2020, seven of which specifically targeted Jewish institutions.
That number probably does not represent the true number of Zoombombings that targeted Jews, as the novelty of that form of harassment likely prevented people from reporting, Rabin said.
“In general, incidents do go vastly underreported and, while we are at historic highs across the country over the past few years, it’s really only scratching the surface of likely what’s actually happening,”
Goodman noted the same issue with data collection.
“A lot of people don’t want to report them; they don’t think the police can do anything. And sometimes they can’t,” she said.
Nationwide stay-at-home orders, a reduced number of daily commutes and school closures likely affected the number of antisemitic incidents, said Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. There were 161 reported antisemitic incidents at non-Jewish K-12 schools in 2020, a 61% decrease from 2019. Classes were Zoom bombed 22 times with antisemitic language and swastikas.
U.S. colleges and universities experienced 128 antisemitic incidents, Segal said, a 32% drop from the previous year.
He stressed the importance of reporting all occurrences of hate.
“The way we can inform policymakers and advocate for better policies and practices is through good reporting,” he said. “The better the data, the better prepared we will all be to strategize about ways to mitigate antisemitism and all forms of hate.”
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle staff writer David Rullo contributed to this report.
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