Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, harassment and attacks against Jewish U.S. residents continued at near-record levels according to the Anti-Defamation league. In its annual report on antisemitism across the United States, ADL announced Tuesday that it recorded 2,024 cases of anti-Jewish assault, harassment or vandalism that occurred in 2020.
While the number of incidents reported to ADL is down 4 percent from 2019, 2020 was still the third worst year on record for reported incidents against American Jews since the anti-hate group began tracking that data back in 1979. It was also the first year since 2017 where no anti-Semitic fatalities were reported.
In Texas, contrary to the nationwide trend, ADL saw 5 percent more anti-Jewish incidents reported in 2020 than in 2019.
“Much of that can be attributed to a sharp hike of 320% in the number of vandalism incidents in ADL’s Texoma region in the northern part of the state,” which includes Dallas, Fort Worth, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa, Temple, Waco, Tyler and Marshall as well as all of Oklahoma, “fueling a 53% increase in the number of vandalism incidents in all of Texas,” read an ADL statement on its new report sent to the Houston Press.
ADL’s 2020 report referenced 41 specific anti-Jewish incidents in Texas last year: 23 cases of vandalism, 18 cases of harassment and zero physical assaults. Texas was one of only 15 states with more than 40 reported cases of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020; The three states that reported the most were California (289), New Jersey (295) and New York (336).
Cheryl Drazin, Vice President of ADL’s Central Division, wrote in a statement that she and her colleagues “are very concerned about the steep rise” in the number of anti-Semitic vandalism cases in Texas this past year, “which include a swastika drawn on a truck belonging to a Jewish institution, anti-Semitic graffiti on property in Central Dallas, and a big uptick in distribution of white supremacist propaganda over much of North Texas.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO and National Director, said that throughout the pandemic, ADL has “watched baseless and dangerous conspiracy theories circling the web, blaming Jews for the coronavirus,” including accusations that Jewish people bio-engineered COVID-19, “that Jews were singularly spreading the virus,” and that “the Jewish people or the Jewish state were somehow profiting off of the vaccines.”
“All of it was ugly,” Greenblatt said, “derived from long-standing Jewish tropes, and deeply problematic.”
Greenblatt believes the still-troubling number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States even amid the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic proves just how powerful of a force anti-Jewish sentiment remains in the country.
“While it's often thought of as the oldest hatred, it is really the most persistent virus,” Greenblatt said, “because it adapts, and it mutates, and it finds new vulnerabilities to exploit.”
That includes the 196 cases of “Zoombombings” reported to ADL in 2020, cases when bigots and prejudiced pranksters disrupted online video conferences with anti-Semitic messages and images. Of those Zoombombings, 114 targeted Jewish religious, educational or cultural organizations, and 82 happened during K-12 school classes, online campus lectures or other private digital events.
It’s not just hardened anti-Semites or neo-Nazis partaking in this behavior either, according to Oren Segal, Vice President of ADL’s Center on Extremism. Of the 2,024 incidents of antisemitism ADL recorded in 2020, Segal said only “16 percent” were carried out by members of known anti-Jewish hate groups, meaning “the vast majority” of these incidents were carried out “by your average Joes or your average Jills.”
Greenblatt argued that the level of anti-Semitic activity in 2020 mirrored the bigotry faced by other minority groups within the United States during the pandemic: “We saw, of course, the rise of anti-Asian hate, where the AAPI community was victimized time and again. The ugly open wound of racism against the black community continued to fester. And vile conspiracy theories about immigration and immigrants themselves continued to spread.”
“America won’t be safe for our Jews unless it’s safe for all its people,” Greenblatt said of ADL’s stated mission to root out all forms of bigotry in the country. “We are obligated as a Jewish community, [and] we are mandated as an organization to make common cause with others, and to enlist them in our cause. Not through our words, but through our deeds.”
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.