A Briefing on the Local Spike in Antisemitism Since Oct. 7

A swastika found in Tredyffrin Township earlier this year (Courtesy of Howard Griffel)

There were more than 500 complaints about antisemitic incidents in the Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia’s territory of eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware in all of 2022, according to Regional Director Andrew Goretsky.

In a little more than a month since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, there have been 103.

Those include 22 incidents at K-12 schools, 17 at colleges and universities and one assault, according to Goretsky. The ADL defines an antisemitic incident as one involving harassment, vandalism or assault.

Not all of the complaints reported make it into the organization’s well-known audit at the end of the year. They must be vetted to see if they qualify as antisemitic incidents. The 2022 audit in Pennsylvania included 153 incidents.

Goretsky expected this recent increase. He said incidents went up in 2021 after the last Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s still striking.

“I still meet people who are not reporting incidents, so I have to imagine the actual number is much higher than being reported,” Goretsky said.

Goretsky’s territory includes cities, such as Philadelphia, and suburbs, such as the four counties surrounding Philadelphia. It includes rural areas in South Jersey and the entire state of Delaware.

Incidents are happening all over the region, he said.

“We’ve asked law enforcement to increase patrols for Jewish and Muslim institutions,” he added.

Pro-Israel signs have been stolen off people’s lawns, according to Andrea Heymann, ADL Philadelphia’s associate regional director. Eggs were thrown at people’s homes and shattered windows. Antisemitic and anti-Israel “phrasing” was found on whiteboards in schools.

“Like ‘from the river to the sea,’ which is a direct call for ethnic cleansing,” Heymann said.

Schools have also seen Heil Hitler salutes. A person in Philadelphia had a kippah ripped off their head. Goretsky marched in a pro-Israel rally in Center City and walked by a woman on the sidewalk who chanted, “Heil Hitler,” three times.

The regional director said there’s been about a 400% increase nationally in antisemitic incidents from this time last year. If this pace in the Philadelphia area continues, it will exceed last year’s number of complaints by about 140%.

Antisemitism has increased nationally since around 2015, according to the ADL’s annual audits. Pennsylvania and New Jersey saw a record number of incidents in 2022. (The ADL started counting in 1979.)

Over the last few years in the Philadelphia area, suburban synagogues have been Zoom bombed. A swastika sticker was placed on a parking lot sign at a synagogue in South Jersey. The Central Bucks School District asked a librarian to take down a poster with an inoffensive quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti were found in a shopping center, at a middle school and in a neighborhood in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County.

This general increase, unrelated to the war between Israel and Hamas, also continues, according to Heymann. In the Central Bucks community of Warrington recently, a swastika was found on a utility pole and white supremacist flyers were distributed to homes.

Goretsky said the ADL is seeing “significant reports” of online harassment using similar language and imagery.

It’s also becoming more common for anti-Israel activity and rhetoric to cross the line into antisemitism. Goretsky and Heymann are seeing the usual tropes of “power, greed, blood libel and Holocaust denialism,” they said.

“I’ve seen people starting to deny what happened on Oct. 7,” Goretsky said.

Since K-12 schools and colleges and universities are the biggest hotbeds, it’s important to focus on them, according to Goretsky. The directors advise administrators to both follow their disciplinary procedures and release statements reassuring their Jewish families and communities.

For individuals, Goretsky recommends reporting incidents on Philadelphia.adl.org. He also suggests knowing what you’re posting on social media and checking the sources of accounts you’re following.

“There’s a ton of disinformation that people are putting out intentionally,” he said.

“Each individual needs to make the choices for themselves to feel safe. I’m going to show my Jewish pride at this time because it’s important to me to do that,” he concluded. “Some have decided not to wear a kippah or a Jewish star. I will not judge any of that.”

[email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here