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329% Jump in State’s Antisemitic Incidents

Skyrocketing rise since 2015 in report by local Jewish Community Relations Council.

By - Mar 2nd, 2020 12:14 pm
Paul Nehlen. Photo from Nehlen for U.S. Congress website.

Paul Nehlen. Photo from Nehlen for U.S. Congress website.

Antisemitic incidents reported in Wisconsin increased 55 percent from 2018 to 2019 and have soared by 329 percent since 2015, according to a new report released today by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

Since Republican Donald Trump ran for election in 2016, and particularly since his election, there has been a significant increase in antisemitic incidents, with nearly 70 bomb threats against Jewish institutions in America in the first two months of 2017.

“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. That climate on the national level affects the local community too,” as Ann Jacobs, current JCRC chairman, noted in February 2017. 

Her comments came as the group released its audit of 2016, which found the number of antisemitic incidents was three-times higher than five years before that. The latest report shows incidents have continued to skyrocket, with big increases in 2019 compared to 2018: 

  • Harassment, threats, and assault increased by 150 percent (from 16 to 40 incidents)
  • Hate group activity (900 percent increase)
  • References to the Holocaust, Nazi, and Hitler (94 percent increase)
  • Middle school activity (250 percent increase)
  • Conspiracy theories (67 percent increase)
  • Pejorative references to Israel and Zionism (160 percent increase; the report distinguishes between “legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism” and statements where “all Jews are held responsible for the actions of Israel; when Israel is denied the right to exist as a Jewish state and… when traditional antisemitic symbols, images, or theories are used”.)

The incidents of hate group activity, the report noted, included “Tweets from former Wisconsin Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen… calling Jews “unlawful, racist murders” who are part of the ‘Synagogue of Satan.’ One photo showed Nehlen making a white power hand gesture with 110 written on his palm. His shirt showed Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers, with the words, ‘Screw the Optics. I’m going in.’” Nehlen ran and lost in the Republican primary in 2016 and 2018 for the 1st Congressional District.

Incidents of harassment “including comments such as: ‘I hope Hitler comes back to kill the Jews’; ‘If I was part of Hitler’s army, I would shoot and kill her’; ‘Do you prefer gas or bullets?’; ‘You should go die in a gas chamber.’ All these took place among middle school students,” the report noted. 

The report’s full list of incidents and anti-Jewish comments arising in Wisconsin is disturbing to read. 

Since early 2017 there has been criticism of Trump and his administration for comments that have opened the door to anti-semitism, with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accusing Trump of a failure of leadership that “has created a vacuum that extremists have exploited. And when abuse is allowed, because it’s not forthrightly condemned, you see that it spreads like a virus.”

Many Democrats nationally have continued to blame Trump for the rise of antisemitism as the Washington Post reported in December.

Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin offered this reaction to Urban Milwaukee: “The growing threat to the Jewish community in Wisconsin is real and a reflection of what we are seeing across the country. That is why I have worked across party lines, creating and funding a program to support nonprofits, including Jewish community centers, to enhance their security and safety.  I have also called for an increase in funding for the Justice Department to support their work helping to prevent hate crimes and prosecute them when they happen.”

The latest report by the Milwaukee Jewish Council seems to downplay criticism of Trump while decrying the “many signals in our society” that encourage antisemitism. “We are living in a time of increased boldness, brazen expressions of hate,” Jacobs said in the press release accompanying the report. “We do not have reason to believe that more people feel animosity toward Jews than before, but we know that more people are acting on their bigoted ideology.”

The council has been doing an annual audit of antisemitic incidents for decades, and includes events “that occur in the State of Wisconsin, are committed by persons residing in the State of Wisconsin, relate to Wisconsin institutions” and “relate to or specifically respond to Wisconsin persons,” the report notes. 

The report will be presented by the JCRC at a public event on Wednesday, March 4, 7 p.m. at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center – Daniel M. Soref Community Hall, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay.

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