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Antisemitic incidents remained high in 2020 amid pandemic, report finds

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Washington — The number of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. remained near a historically high level in 2020, with more than 2,000 instances of assault, harassment and vandalism reported across 47 states and Washington, D.C., according to an annual survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released Tuesday. 

Last year marked the third-highest year for incidents against American Jews since the ADL began tracking data in 1979.

As meetings and lessons migrated online in March of 2020, instances of antisemitic “Zoombombing” — the intentional disruption of live video conferences — spiked, the audit found. In 2020, ADL tallied 196 incidents of antisemitic videoconferencing interruptions, with 114 targeting Jewish institutions like schools and synagogues. 

2020 also saw 327 reported incidents at Jewish institutions including synagogues and Jewish community centers, a whopping 40% increase from 234 in 2019. These acts represented 264 incidents of harassment, 61 incidents of vandalism and 3 incidents of assault.

At the same time, incidents of antisemitism attacks at schools and colleges dropped off as in-person classes switched to remote learning. 

Overall, the number of reported incidents in 2020 declined by 4% from 2019’s record high, despite lockdowns and limits on in-person gatherings during the pandemic. Incidents of vandalism and assault decreased by 18% and 49%, respectively, with no antisemitic fatalities reported in 2020. But incidents of harassment ticked up by 10% compared to 2019, with a total of 1,242 acts reported to the ADL. The report also found cases of scapegoating, as attackers falsely blamed Jews and other marginalized communities for spreading COVID-19.

“While any decline in the data is encouraging, we still experienced a year in which antisemitic acts remained at a disturbingly high level despite lockdowns and other significant changes in our daily lives and interactions with others,” ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “We can’t let our guard down. As communities begin to open up and people spend more time in person with others, we must remain vigilant.”

The states racking up the highest numbers of incidents included New York, with 336; New Jersey, 295; California, 289; Florida, 127 and Pennsylvania, 101. Collectively, these states accounted for nearly 57% of total incidents. 

The ADL counted 178 antisemitic incidents in 2020 referencing Israel or Zionism, compared to 175 in 2019. In 38 instances, messages appeared in the form of white supremacist propaganda efforts. 

The ADL traced 16% of recorded antisemitic acts to known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology, or 331 in total. White supremacist groups were behind 277 antisemitic propaganda distributions. 

On January 6, a number of pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol wore clothing with antisemitic messages. Robert Packer, seen wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Last month, U.S. intelligence agencies found that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and militia violent extremists presented the “most lethal” national security threats. Racially motivated extremists were determined to be the most likely to instigate mass-casualty attacks against civilians, according to the unclassified summary from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. 

Tuesday marks the second anniversary of the Poway synagogue shooting that left one dead and three others injured, including the rabbi of Chabad of Poway synagogue, just north of San Diego. 

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