Antisemitic incidents hit a record high in 2021. What’s behind the rise in hate?

The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitic behavior nationwide, found 2,717 incidents in 2021. That's a 34 percent rise from the year before and averages out to more than seven anti-Semitic incidents per day. Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and author of the recent book "It Could Happen Here." He joins William Brangham to discuss the record-high occurrences.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Antisemitic incidents hit a record high last year in the United States.

    William Brangham has more on what is behind the rise in hate.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitic behavior nationwide, found 2,717 incidents in 2021. That's a 34 percent increase from the year before. That averages to more than seven antisemitic incidents per day.

    Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and author of the recent book "It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable and How We Can Stop It."

    Jonathan Greenblatt, good to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    This report documents the most antisemitic attacks in the U.S. since the ADL started recording these events back in the 1970s. Can you help us understand, how should we interpret what you have found?

    Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League: Well, I think the data, unfortunately, speaks for itself in some ways.

    As you pointed out, this is the highest total we have ever tracked in more than 40 years of doing this work. And we should keep in mind that antisemitic acts were going down in the United States for almost 15 years, and then ,in 2016, they started to move up. And we're now at the point where we have nearly triple the number of incidents today that we did in 2015.

    I mean, in the past year alone, assaults increased 167 percent. And we saw examples of vandalism on the rise, harassment on the rise. So I think antisemitism really isn't just, I would suggest, a Jewish problem. It's an American problem. It's typically the canary in the coal mine. And so, as things are beginning to unravel more broadly, the Jewish community is often the target of scapegoating and victimized in that way.

    And that's exactly what's happening here.

  • William Brangham:

    Your report points out a timeline coincidence, that a lot of these attacks really surged right around the 2021 violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

    And, similarly, as you're mentioning, there were also a similar number of attacks with — on Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans.

    Why do you think those events were such a trigger?

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    I can't speak to the number of attacks on Arab-Americans during that time. I'm not really aware. But I can tell you — or Muslim-Americans.

    But I can tell you specifically that, in the period of May, during the conflict, we saw nearly 150 percent increase of antisemitic acts over the same period of time in 2020. Now, I will be honest. You often see, with incidents in the Middle East or conflict, things can be triggered here at home.

    But we have never seen a situation like this before. You had Jews being beaten and brutalized in broad daylight, say, in the middle of Times Square or Los Angeles or the Strip in Las Vegas, where people who were simply identified as Jewish came under assault and attack. That was new.

    And I think what you're seeing is a kind of normalization of antisemitism and extremism. And to put this in some degree of context, we know, for example, that when we saw elected officials and people in positions of authority after the outbreak of COVID denigrating China, attacking its policies, making wild claims about their intentionality of the regime in Beijing to spreading COVID around the world, we saw attacks on Asian Americans here at home.

    By the same token, when you have people make wild claims about the Jewish state, make unhinged accusations, maybe it shouldn't surprise us that then people attack Jewish Americans here at home.

    So I think we need people in positions of authority to kind of dial down the rhetoric, to realize that words have consequences, and to be a bit more responsible.

  • William Brangham:

    Addressing hatred in any one individual is obviously a very difficult thing to do. You talked about lowering the temperature.

    But are there other things that people of goodwill, that social media companies, that other policymakers could do to reduce this hatred and bigotry?

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    Certainly, there are things that can be done.

    So, number one, I think individuals should be — feel empowered to interrupt intolerance when it happens. Call out hate when you hear it, whether it's directed at Jewish people or, by the way, anyone else. And, in our polarized society, we often don't want to — we point to the other side.

    But we need to call it out when it happens among our own, conservatives calling it out when conservatives do it, liberals calling it out when liberals do it. That's really important. I think the social media companies could play a huge role. Their algorithms don't need to amplify intolerance and antisemitism. Just a little bit more discretion by the companies could dial down the drama dramatically.

    And then, finally, I'd like to see policymakers bring anti-bias education into classrooms, bring communities together. There's a lot more that could be done.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, thank you so much for being here.

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    Thank you.

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