Anti-Semitic Incidents Down From Last Year

The annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents put out by the Anti-Defamation League reported nearly 30 fewer incidents in 2009 than the previous year, although ADL officials warn that recent changes in their methodology have made it difficult to compare figures from different years.

The 2009 audit was released on Monday, and contains both national and local statistics. The ADL reported 68 anti-Semitic incidents in the Delaware Valley, including one case of assault, 13 instances of property damage and 54 examples of harassment.

The previous year saw a total of 97 incidents locally, with two assaults, 59 episodes of harassment and 36 instances of property damage. Nationally, the total number of reported anti-Semitic incidents declined 10 percent from 1,352 in 2008 to 1,211 in 2009, according to the ADL.

For the second straight year, the Philadelphia region ranked fifth in the country in the number of incidents.

"No matter what the numbers say or don't say, there is reason to be anxious and concerned, as well as remain vigilant," said Barry Morrison, ADL's longtime regional director.

He added that there's still a danger that the voluble nature of contemporary politics, combined with the poor economy — even if the outlook is somewhat improved — could lead to an uptick in anti-Semitism.

Snapshot on the National Level

For years, Morrison and other officials have cautioned that their report offers a snapshot, at best, of the level of anti-Semitism in the United States.

The FBI issues its own hate-crimes report.

Last year, for instance, the overall numbers appeared to go down, but two high-profile events — the killing of a guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; and an alleged plot to blow up two synagogues in New York City — put nearly all Jewish institutions on alert.

While the ADL monitors anti-Semitic content on the Web, it does not include cyberspace incidents in its audit.

This year, the ADL decided to exclude certain instances of graffiti from the final tally, such as when a swastika is discovered on a non-Jewish site. (A swastika spray-painted on a synagogue is still a clearly anti-Semitic act, according to the audit.)

ADL national director Abraham Foxman said in a release that "we know that the swastika has, for some, lost its meaning as the primary symbol of Nazism and instead become a more generalized symbol of hate."

Myrna Sheinbaum, an ADL spokesperson, added that "we had to make some adjustments to the new reality of how anti-Semitism is reaching people."

One local incident that made the report was a December 2009 basketball game between Lower Merion High School, which has a large Jewish population, and Upper Darby High School, in which some of the Upper Darby students chanted "Warm up the ovens" and "We'll write you letters when you're at Auschwitz."

The ADL helped facilitate follow-up discussions between the administrations and students at both educational facilities.

Another episode was "Kick a Jew Day," which took place at a Bucks County middle school in December — right around the time a similar, more widely reported effort happened in Florida. This constituted Philadelphia's lone "assault."

Morrison noted that he was satisfied with how the school handled the situation, but declined to go into more detail.

In the area of "harassment," the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church picketed numerous local institutions, including the Jewish Community Services Building on Arch Street. Westboro members carried signs that read "Jews Killed Jesus," "God Hates Jews," "Israel Is Doomed" and "Some Jews Will Repent."



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