Antisemitism: The scourge that won't go away and keeps adapting

AP/Jean-Francois Badias

A surge of antisemitic attacks shook the Jewish residents of the New York City area in 2019. Two years later, a wave of antisemitism has again washed over the world, with New York at the epicenter. The antisemitism has not yet abated.

To counter the steady stream of hate attacks in 2021, and to prepare for those in the future, it’s necessary to better understand the tactics used by antisemites, and the ideologies that inform them.

When the waves of Jew-hatred in 2019 and 2021 are compared, it becomes apparent how antisemitic attacks are inspired by one another, tactics differ by ideological group, and that these incidents occur within a blind spot for some extremists.

Antisemitism in 2019

It’s still unclear what caused the tide of antisemitism in late 2019. According to FBI hate crime statistics, incidents against Jews had been rising since the beginning of the decade. The hatred peaked in late 2019.

According to the New York City Police Department (NYPD) hate crimes dashboard, confirmed physical attacks against Jews jumped in November by 800% compared to the four previous months.

The ADL, in its yearly audit of antisemitic incidents in the United States, recorded a 12% increase in incidents from the previous year. Additionally, violence almost doubled, and vandalism increased by 4%.

Several major incidents occurred around Hanukkah 2019 that highlighted how the area had become a font of antisemitism. In Jersey City, on December 10, two radical Black Hebrew Israelites shot up a kosher supermarket, killing four and wounding three. On December 28, another extremist BHI proponent attacked a rabbi’s Monsey home with a machete, killing one and wounding four. Throughout the month, CCTV footage surfaced of anti-Jewish attacks, pushing locals to act.

“In response to a wave of violent attacks against identifiably Jewish people in the New York area, UJA-Federation and our partner, the Jewish Community Relations Council-New York, brought together over 25,000 New Yorkers, including political and religious leaders from across the spectrum,” Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post. “We marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to say we will never be silent in the face of antisemitism or hate, a powerful display of unity and activism that garnered national attention.”

In response to the outrage, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a new anti-hate crime task force, increased police patrols, and installed 100 new security cameras. However, to some activists, this was not enough, and the impact of the initiatives was blunted by their lack of focus. In press conferences, de Blasio spoke of white supremacy as the key issue, and the new task force wasn’t particular to antisemitism.

According to Blake Flayton, co-founder of the New Zionist Congress and social media activist, a blind spot for antisemitism was created for political reasons. “This country has a very serious problem with not giving antisemitism enough attention when it doesn’t come carrying a tiki torch; when it doesn’t come from a place that we could pin as white nationalism, as white supremacy or somehow from Donald Trump and the alt-right.”

A review of the New York City area incidents in November and December, collected from the ADL and the Secure Community Network (SCN), shows that the majority of identified perpetrators were not white supremacists. More than 55% of 2019 attackers appear to have been black supremacists, several having espoused rhetoric belonging to the BHI movement or Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

Charles Asher Small, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy and research scholar at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, told the Post that many of the memetic antisemitic ideas “can be traced back in large part to the Nation of Islam.”

Another 27% of the incidents appear to have been related to white supremacists or neo-Nazis. The tactics used by these ideological groups should be of interest, as different groups appear to have favored different methodologies in expressing hate for Jews.

An analysis of the amalgamated ADL and SCN data shows a diversity of tactics. While there is overlap, the antisemitic tactics used in 2019 can be divided into verbal harassment, vandalism and physical assault. In its audits, the ADL uses the same divisions.

In November and the beginning of December, verbal harassment consisted largely of insults, but after the Jersey City shooting, verbal threats of violence became more common. Similarly, physical assault jumped in the latter half of December. This is confirmed by NYPD data, with a 150% increase in violent action compared to the first half of December.

Vandalism seemed to be largely the domain of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Most of the vandalism used spray paint and involved Nazi iconography or white supremacist symbolism.

While all groups seemed to be involved in verbal harassment, unarmed physical violence was committed largely by single black supremacist attackers, though there were a few incidents of gang attacks as well.

“The tactics are really terrifying,” Flayton told the Post. White supremacists’ actions are “either very profound and scary, like a mass shooting of a synagogue, or discrete and terrifying, like a swastika spray-painted onto a synagogue.”

In contrast, Flayton noticed that other antisemitic ideologies were “so flagrant and out in the open and proud of itself. It harasses Jews on the subway, on buses; it goes up to Jews walking down the street in Williamsburg and screams profanities at them.”

Other novel tactics were used, such as egging or the theft of Jewish religious garments. Notably, the use of novel tactics appears to occur in small waves. For example, the second egging incident during the period occurred the day after the first. Two of the three thefts of religious garments occurred hours apart. A cursory examination of the data appears to indicate that once an antisemitic tactic had been used, there was a 35% chance that the same antisemitic tactic would be used in the next incident.

Tactical trends are not a new phenomenon. During the 2015 “knife intifada” in Israel, the popularity of tactics used by Palestinian terrorists, most notably involving knives, but also car rammings and shootings, shifted based on success and social media attention. Similarly, white supremacist terrorists have attempted to act in emulation of the Christchurch anti-Muslim shooting.

When asked whether the march had a lasting impact, Flayton told the Post that it did bring temporary attention to the issue, and spoke to the problem of antisemites emboldening one another and copying their actions. “I think you see these bursts of violence happen and then subside and then reemerge, because antisemites in the city hear the news that it’s happening, and so they’re copycats and they want to continue the pogrom.”

Antisemitism in 2021

“By the time the march happened, that wave had subsided,” said Flayton. “We hadn’t heard about it as much anymore. But I don’t think that really had anything to do with the march.... It just phased out, only to come back in at a later time with a trigger.”

The trigger was Operation Guardians of the Walls, and a new wave engulfed New York. ADL information indicates around a 200% increase in antisemitic incidents in May. Much of the rhetoric involved has centered around the conflict between Hamas and Israel. When protests in favor of or against Israel or Hamas came to New York City streets, activists clashed.

As with the previous year, there has been concern over a blind spot for antisemitic attacks based on the ideology of the attackers. To combat rising hate crimes, de Blasio has announced another general anti-racism initiative.

“The current wave of antisemitism we’ve seen on the streets of New York was fueled by anti-Zionism, and the voices of elected officials and community leaders have been more muted,” Goldstein told the Post.

“I think one of the reasons why it’s been so emboldened and why it’s so up-front and not discreet is because it’s not coming from the hard Right,” said Flayton. “People know that liberals and progressive people and the forward-thinking masses won’t do anything substantial to combat it. There won’t be a hashtag circulating on Twitter.”

A review of ADL and SCN data shows that antisemitic attacks have since been largely motivated by anti-Israel sentiment. Of the attacks with apparent motivation, 67% were by anti-Zionist elements. However, it appears that white and black supremacist groups are quite active during this period as well.

This year, there is once again a diversity of tactics according to ideological groups.

Vandalism was once again mostly neo-Nazi in iconography. However, there were also more direct attacks of physical violence against Jewish businesses and institutions.

Anti-Israel extremists also displayed more willingness to operate in gangs and to use weapons. Anti-Israel radicals used gangs 150% more than black supremacists in 2019. They also used weapons, such as pepper spray or fireworks, 66% more than supremacists in 2019. Another tactical element that could be identified in 2021 was how verbal harassment often involved intimidation to make public political statements.

Lessons from blind spots and tactics

The antisemitism surge of 2021 has still not ebbed. Compared to 2019, it is far more of an international problem, and examining events in New York can give an understanding of only that ecosystem. However, there are lessons that can be learned in comparing the ideologies and associated tactics of those involved in antisemitic actions.

Antisemitism is not limited to one ideological group. Blind spots to the actions of groups due to political convenience may result in the perpetuation of ideologically inspired waves of antisemitism. Denouncing neo-Nazism when Black Hebrew Israelites or Muslim anti-Zionists are the perpetrators is unlikely to create a sense of urgency for the extremists to stop.

Small told the Post that it is important to support social movements like Black Lives Matter, “but when there is antisemitism, speak up clearly.”

“We’ve advocated to diverse political, faith-based, and community leaders to speak out unequivocally against antisemitism,” Goldstein said of UJA-FNY’s efforts to combat the new wave of antisemitism. “We’ve placed ads in major newspapers signed by interfaith and community leaders of all backgrounds denouncing antisemitism and calling on others to do the same.”

Radical elements operate differently. White supremacists, at least in New York City during these two periods, were confined to the shadows, at best partaking in vandalism. Black supremacists embarked on individual verbal and physical attacks, while anti-Zionists operated in gangs and used weapons.

Depending on the ideological undercurrent, authorities can focus their efforts to counter the preferred tactics. This is another reason it is important to identify the involved extremist groups.

Additionally, given the propensity for copycat attacks, by monitoring tactics, authorities can anticipate the type of attacks to come.

Authorities must take a greater look at the ideologies and tactics used by antisemitic extremists worldwide.

In Canada and the UK, there have been striking examples of sexual intimidation and violence against Jews. In both New York and LA, restaurants have become favored targets.

Just as the IDF identifies new tactical trends and develops tools to combat them, as with rockets and the Iron Dome, authorities must spot and properly counter emerging tactical trends in antisemitism.

However, they must first be willing to acknowledge the extremist groups that they are combating. Only then will they be able to stem the tides of hate.

Michael Starr is a desk manager at The Jerusalem Post. An IDF veteran with experience in the security and public diplomacy fields, he has a BA in government and an MA in counter-terrorism and national security from IDC Herzliya. On Twitter: @Starrlord89

Source: JPOST