Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Why anti-Semitism in America warrants attention

A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6, including 4 police, at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/via JTA)

Anti-Jewish incidents make up more than 59 percent of all reported religiously biased hate crimes in the United States. Stated simply, there are too many. And something needs to be done.

The United States Department of Justice starts with the basics, as I wrote in a recent blog on hate. “In the simplest terms, a hate crime must include both ‘hate’ and a ‘crime’” while the FBI is more specific, calling it a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity. Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in a variety of settings, the first federal hate laws specifically addressing hate came into being in 1968 and subsequent federal hate crime laws followed in later years. Federal laws apply everywhere evenly; the states, on the other hand, are very uneven. They may differently define bias motivations or offer varying increased penalties for crimes involving bias. While most states that have hate crimes laws require data collection, many do not. Further, four states – including Georgia – and four United States territories do not have any hate crimes on the books. Some states have also passed group libel laws, which would seem to offer some protections for hate expressed towards discriminated groups, but Supreme Court rulings seem to back off infringing on speech even if disparaging to groups.

Anti-Semitism, like other biases, motivates some perpetrators to commit crimes. The American Psychological Association notes that those who carry out hate crimes may feel threatened by demographic changes and be motivated by hate, fear ignorance or anger and their crimes “send messages to members of the victim’s group that they are unwelcome and unsafe.” The history of anti-Semitism, specifically, in the United State goes back to colonial times. Today, anti-Semitism comes from across the political spectrum for a number of reasons; there is sometimes even disagreement about the reasons). Many anti-Semitic tropes are employed by those who hate Jews; it is important to be able to recognize them. Anti-Zionism is also a form of anti-Semitism and has been used as an excuse for intimidation, especially on college campuses. Regardless of the multitude of causes for anti-Semitic hate, its symptoms need to be treated.

The FBI addresses both why fighting hate crimes is important and how they do it. “Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s Civil Rights program due to the devastating impact they have on families and communities. The Bureau investigates hundreds of these cases every year and works to detect and deter further incidents through law enforcement training, public outreach, and partnerships with community groups.”

The FBI gathers data via the Uniform Crime Reporting Program; its four data collections include one for hate crimes, and is collected “from more than 18,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the program.” Data collection isn’t just important for assembling statistics; as The Bureau of Justice Assistance pointed out, it is also instrumental in “making victims feel that someone is aware of their problem; creating opportunities for referrals to victim assistance services; encouraging reporting by individuals who might not otherwise notify police; providing police with information on potential trouble spots of hate group activity to allow for early intervention; and increasing public awareness of the issue.” Single bias incidents are divided into categories for race/ethnicity/ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity. According to the data collected by the FBI, in 1997, of 1,385 religiously motivated hate crimes, 78% were anti-Semitic in nature. Two decades later it is still an issue; there were 938 Anti-Jewish incidents reported to the FBI in 2017, making up almost 60% of all incidents motivated by religious bias. This high percentage warrants attention.

Having said that, the problem may be more significant than even the FBI’s statistics convey. Pro Publica, an independent non-profit investigative journalist site, contends the FBI’s statistics are not reliable. “The evidence suggests that many police agencies across the country are not working very hard to count hate crimes. Thousands of them opt not to participate in the FBI’s hate crime program at all. Among the 15,000 that do, some 88 percent reported they had no hate crimes….Local law enforcement agencies reported a total of 6,121 hate crimes in 2016 to the FBI, but estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the federal government, pin the number of potential hate crimes at almost 250,000 a year — one indication of the inadequacy of the FBI’s data.” This is a significant discrepancy. As such, Pro Publica is collecting data for its own database. The extent of anti-Semitic hate crimes may be even greater.

In fact, the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization founded over a century ago in response to anti-Semitism, collects data on extremist and anti-Semitic acts. Filterable for anti-Semitic acts, its H.E.A.T. (hate, extremism, anti-Semitism, terrorism) map (which I’ve blogged about before) provides a useful visualization with “data points extracted from information sources including news and media reports, government documents (including police reports), victim reports, extremist-related sources, Center on Extremism investigations and more.” Importantly, the ADL includes data for 2018. Where the FBI reported 938 incidents for 2017 (which was likely underreported), the ADL has recorded over 100% more, that is, 1, 986 anti-Semitic incidents for 2017 (and 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents for 2018). There is a need for public policy to address the significant problem of religiously motivated anti-Jewish incidents.

Stakeholders include both Jewish citizens and all who hold the country’s values close to heart. This is because, within a social context, society benefits from cohesiveness and tranquility. Government has a stake in improving the situation; in fact, the ADL is working with the United States Conference of Mayors to address the issue. Law enforcement, too, has a stake in reducing this category of crime. While the FBI says it works with community stakeholders, it is unclear which, as neither its page on Partnerships nor on Community Outreach specify any Jewish or anti-hate groups.

A patchwork of federal and state laws against hate crimes including anti-Semitism exists, as do educational anti-hate resources and cooperative initiatives like the ADL’s with the Mayors’ Conference. But no unified public policy addresses the significant amount of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States. Perhaps it is time.

This is adapted from a paper I am writing for a Public Policy Analysis class as I work towards dual master degrees in public administration and in integrated global communications. 

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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