Local anti-Semitism jumps, takes on a personal tone

According to the Anti-Defamation League's 2002 audit, 8 percent more anti-Semitic incidents were reported last year than the year before, nationwide. But in the Bay Area, 900 percent more incidents were reported.

That numerical chasm disturbs Jonathan Bernstein.

A large map of the Bay Area hangs in the ADL regional director's Market Street office and, as in any proper detective movie, red push-pins mark the sites of reported anti-Semitic incidents. Simply put, Bernstein is running out of room in San Francisco and Berkeley.

Thirteen incidents were reported in 2001; 118 were reported last year, including 35 in San Francisco and 27 in Alameda County.

In addition to a greater number of cases, Bernstein describes an "increase in the severity" of the incidents, with more "in-your-face" harassment and five reported beatings, up from zero in 2001.

"I think an environment has been created here that's allowed this to happen. I think the increase in the Bay Area is extremely significant and is something that has been felt by the Jewish community here before this audit was released," said Bernstein.

"With each of these incidents, there has not been a chorus of voices speaking out against them. And that is what we are trying to encourage more of…A good portion of this is stemming from people's criticisms toward Israel and using that to scapegoat all Jews."

Incidents include phone calls to Jewish organizations expressing thoughts like "Jews are murderers, if I was an Arab, I would smash you to pieces," Nazi graffiti and instances in which observant Jews are beaten by assailants who asked, "Do you support Israel?"

There was an arson fire, or attempted arson, at synagogues in Oakland and San Francisco, numerous bomb threats to other synagogues and Jewish institutions, and a huge jump in anti-Semitic vandalism.

Bernstein points to the month-by-month breakdown of reported incidents. In March, April and May, respectively, 11, 32 and 22 incidents were reported, far more than any other months. These correspond roughly with periods of aggressive Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories, Bernstein believes.

He accuses progressive organizations opposing Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and/or the war in Iraq of tacitly accepting anti-Semitism in their movements.

"If I look out my window right now, protesters are out on Market Street, and people are carrying signs reading 'No War for Israel' and there's one sign that says 'Smash the Jewish State, Smash the Jewish Race,'" he said.

Blatant anti-Semites "are surrounded by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people and feel like all these people are there supporting their sentiment and their cause if no one speaks out and asks them to remove their signs."

Minus the Bay Area's 105-incident augmentation from last year, the national count is nearly unchanged. In 2001, there were 1,432 incidents compared to 1,559 last year.

Reports of vandalism dropped to a 20-year low of 531, but the 1,028 harassments, threats or assaults is the most since 1995.

Nationally, reports of anti-Semitism on college campuses is up 24 percent. Locally, however, Bernstein said "many more" incidents are taking place in the general community than on campuses.

"The feeling is these are more direct, in-your-face kinds of incidents. In the past, it might be done a little bit more undercover or in a way that the perpetrator could keep his identity secret and didn't really target a specific individual," he said.

"Now the calls are coming into people's homes. It's at a more personal level."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.