Anti-Semitic hate crimes have been on the rise both nationally and locally over the past two years, a problem that many blame on last year’s presidential campaign rhetoric, experts said.
The trend was the focus of “The State of Anti-Semitism: Local and Global,” a conference hosted Sept. 13 by The Global Institute at LIU Post, where about 400 people came to learn about and discuss the issue.
“Business for us is at an all-time high, unfortunately,” Evan Bernstein, the New York regional director at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told the audience. “These events have true impact in our community. There’s people that are being affected by this.”
Bernstein said there has been a 40 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes reported in New York City so far this year versus the same time frame last year. He also said LI is home to about a third of anti-Semitic incidents that the ADL tracked in New York this year. Suffolk County police said about half of the 30 hate crimes reported so far this year involved anti-Semitism.
“Clearly there’s a critical mass in terms of anti-Semitic motivation,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said.
Bernstein said the incidents—ranging from vandals spray painting swastikas to yelling racial slurs at pedestrians—has ripple effects in the community.
“When any minority is singled out like a Jewish person is, other minorities—whether you’re Hispanic, LBGTQ, African American—everybody has a sense of fear,” he said, noting that there may be more cases since some victims don’t report incidents to police.
Acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder noted that the department made a video in 2012 dubbed “Hate: Crossing The Line” that it sends to local schools to teach tolerance.
“That is where a lot of our issues start…with our children,” he said.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, who recently created a hate crimes unit to handle such specialized prosecutions, agreed, noting that one young defendant was ignorant to the Nazi meaning of the swastika they were arrested for spray painting.
“It is very much relevant today, probably more so when we hear some of the heated and divisive rhetoric that’s coming from, unfortunately, so many people who are in positions of authority, that embolden people to act in ways that is truly despicable,” she said.
While some blamed social media and others “the dogwhistle from the top,” when one audience member asked the law enforcement panel directly what they thought was the cause of the trend, it caused a stir in the crowd.
“It’s hard to say,” said Anthony Bivona, supervisory special agent for the FBI. “The election in and of itself spewed a lot of hatred on both sides and that emboldened a lot of individuals that are committing these crimes.”
Ex-U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who chairs The Global Institute at LIU Post and organized the conference, said it’s because Jewish values are a threat to tyranny.
“Jewish history teaches us that there is evil in the world and in our county,” he said, starting with the Egyptians enslaving the Jews and leading up to white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va. this summer. “And when there’s evil we must confront it… there are cycles of anti-Semitism throughout our history and when we see those cycles we must push back on them.”