Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Stunning Rise in Anti-Semitism

Nationally and in Wisconsin, the highest in more than four decades. Why?

By - May 3rd, 2022 04:20 pm
Members of the alt-right Proud Boys at MAGA rally. File photo by Ethan Duran.

Members of the alt-right Proud Boys at MAGA rally. File photo by Ethan Duran.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism released its annual report, which warned of “alarmingly high levels of antisemitism in the United States.” The report tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents nationally in 2021, up 34% from 2020 and “the highest number on record” since the group began tracking incidents in 1979.

Those jaw dropping numbers come on the heels of the annual statewide report by the Milwaukee Jewish Community Relations Council (MJCRC), which found a 459% increase in antisemitic incidents in Wisconsin since 2015. The Milwaukee group has been tracking such incidents only since 2011.

There was a time, of course, when antisemitism was common both nationally and locally. As recently as the 1980s private clubs like the downtown Milwaukee Club did not allow Jews as members, as a 1992 story that I wrote for Milwaukee Magazine reported.

But by the 1990s those barriers had largely fallen away and the fact that Wisconsin had two Jewish U.S. Senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, received no notice, a sign of how much Wisconsin and the U.S. had changed. Antisemitic incidents were rare: The first MJCRC report, in 2011, found just 15 antisemitic incidents in Wisconsin and 17 in 2015.

That was the year Donald Trump began his campaign for president and “we saw an acceptance of hate speech that we had never seen before,” says Allison Hayden, a spokesperson for the MJCRC report. That continued during Trump’s four years as president. “The alt right and neo-Nazis see him as sympathizing with him. There’s a sense of enabling their views that has grown,” she adds.

Whether that increased antisemitic views or simply made people who held these views more comfortable expressing them is difficult to say, she adds.

But the number of antisemitic incidents nationally has exploded since then, from 942 in 2015 to 2,717 in 2021, the ADL report shows, while in Wisconsin the annual number of incidents rose from 17 in 2015 to 99 in 2020.

Of the total reporting nationally in 2021, “1,776 were cases of harassment, a 43% increase from 1,242 in 2020, and 853 incidents were cases of vandalism, a 14% increase from 751 in 2020. The 88 incidents of antisemitic assault (a 167% increase from 33 in 2020), involved 131 victims; none of the assaults were deadly,” the ADL reported.

Only 484 of the incidents, or 18%, were attributed “to known right-wing extremist groups or individuals inspired by right-wing extremist ideology,” the report noted. “White supremacist groups, for example, were responsible for 422 antisemitic propaganda distributions. This is a 52% increase from 277 in 2020.”

But they are helping to spread these views across the nation. So is the propaganda by the QAnon group. One of the most popular QAnon influencers, GhostEzra, “is an open Nazi who praises Hitler, admires the Third Reich and decries the supposedly treacherous nature of Jews,” the ADL report noted.

“We really saw an uptick of QAnon becoming mainstream in 2020,” Hayden notes.

With Trump no longer in office and barred from Twitter, he has less influence, but Trumpism lives on. Two Republican members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosarspoke at a white nationalist conference this year. Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson devotes his show to promoting Trumpism and has been denounced by the ADL for promoting white nationalist views. The group has called for Fox to fire Carlson.

All of which can help build a climate for hate crimes, which the ADL report warned is a growing problem. “The FBI’s annual hate crimes report for 2020 reported a 13% increase in hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in almost two decades. A total of 8,263 hate crime incidents were reported, an increase from 7,314 in 2019. Hate crimes targeting the Jewish community made up nearly 55% of all religion-based hate crimes in 2020.”

“As disturbing as these statistics are,” the report noted, “they only tell us about a small fraction of all hate crimes. Many law enforcement agencies do not participate meaningfully in reporting pursuant to the Hate Crime Statistics Act. In 2020, for the third straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data on hate crimes to the FBI declined.”

Locally, Hayden says the Milwaukee Police Department has been open to discussing this issue. “We have a good rapport with the department and are trying to offer them information and resources to make sure hate crimes are changed.”

Since 2019, a new trend is driving antisemitism: blaming Jews for COVID-19 or for restrictions meant to prevent its spread. Both the national and Milwaukee report offered many examples. “With the start of the global pandemic in 2020 there emerged conspiracies of Jewish or Israeli involvement with spreading or creating COVID-19, and in 2021 we saw an increase in these conspiracies spread through social media,” the Milwaukee report noted.

“A flyer was distributed stating, ‘Every single aspect of the covid agenda is Jewish’ was given to a student at Kenosha Tremper High School as well as found on residential driveways. The flyer including a list of CDC staff, covid advisors, and vaccine scientists all marked as being Jewish…”

“A comment made on the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department’s Facebook post about vaccine numbers showed a swastika made of arms giving themselves a vaccine.”

It’s the return of a centuries old-trope, Hayden notes: “In times of social and economic unrest people look for someone to blame and antisemitism is the oldest example of this. It happened during the Black Plague and the Spanish Flu, you had people saying, ‘oh, it must somehow be the Jews’ fault.’”

One thought on “Murphy’s Law: The Stunning Rise in Anti-Semitism”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Thank you for this important article, Bruce…

    Could you also write an article about the increase in violence and antisemitism directed toward Arabic speaking Muslims and Palestinians? By definition, they are also Semitic people.

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