Anti-Semitic incidents rise in Milwaukee and across nation

Lisa Neff and Louis Weisberg, Staff writers

The Jewish Community Relations Council has reported an “extraordinarily high number” of local anti-Semitic incidents in 2016.

The Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s council released its annual audit Feb. 20, amid other reports documenting a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the nation and around the world. Those reports also show a spike in the number of active hate groups in the United States from 2015 to 2016 — a development that coincided with the campaign and election of Donald Trump.

“The rhetoric around the presidential election not only legitimized bigotry against all minorities, as we’ve seen through a variety of statistics, but also included specific coded and overt anti-Semitic expressions,” Anna Jacobs, chair of the JCRC’s Anti-Semitism Task Force, stated. “That climate on the national level affects the local community, too.”

The JCRC audit contains details of anti-Semitic incidents involving harassment, threats, physical assaults, verbal and written expressions of hate and vandalism.

The report reveals Jewish people threatened on the job, harassed while sitting in their yard, bullied at school, taunted on the sports field and targeted with hate speech on websites and in social media.

The audit’s writers noted several trends, including an increase in anti-Semitic harassment of students in middle schools and high schools.

Details from the document

  • A Jewish high school student in a west suburb was taunted with Nazi-related language.
  • A high school student in Washington County was bullied, called names and taunted with “salty f*****g Jew.”
  • North Shore middle-school students taunted Jewish classmates by saying they planned to write in Adolf Hitler during a mock election.

The report also documented an increase in incidents on college campuses. For example, there were at least 17 instances when white supremacist graffiti was found on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Swastika graffiti also was spray-painted on a bridge in Washington County, painted on the side of an abandoned school building in the north suburbs, drawn on a high school student’s desk and found on another student’s locker.

“We should all be vigilant against this rise in hate and extremism,” said Elana Kahn, director of the JCRC. “We see from history that when communities allow people to be targeted based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or other identity markers, terrible things can happen.”

The JCRC report emphasizes the incidents in the audit were corroborated and reviewed and notes, “many incidents go unreported.”

Across the nation

Meanwhile, the string of recent anti-Semitic incidents around the country continues to lengthen, including bomb threats at more than 80 Jewish community centers and schools around the country as well as cemetery desecrations and other crimes.

Among the targets has been a Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, which received its third threat on March 7.

About a hundred headstones were recently overturned in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, only about a week after a similar crime in Missouri.

In Indiana, an apparent gunshot fired into a synagogue has drawn the attention of the FBI.

As another wave of bomb threats  hit Jewish community facilities across the country, police say anti-Semitic incidents in New York City have nearly doubled in the first two months of the year.

Jan. 1–Feb. 26, there were 35 reported anti-Semitic incidents in the city, compared with 18 reported incidents during the same period last year, the New York Police Department said. That’s a 94 percent increase.

Overall, NYPD statistics show a 55 percent rise in hate crimes since last year, although the city said crime in general is down 9.7 percent.

Hate crimes spiked in 2016 as well, and city and state officials blamed the surge on the hateful rhetoric used during the presidential campaign.

In early February, there were also reports that anti-Semitic hate crimes were on the rise in the U.K., growing by more than a third to reach a record high in 2016.

Monitoring, reporting

The Jewish Community Relations Council takes confidential reports of incidents at 414-390-5736 or via email to Elana Kahn at elanak@milwaukeejewish.org.

Editor’s Note: WiG Editor-in-Chief Louis Weisberg is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council.