ADL: Hate crimes drop by 50% locally, unaltered nationally

Is the anti-Semitism glass half-empty or half-full? The numbers are in from the ADL’s annual audit, and the results seem almost designed to test whether one is an optimist or a pessimist.

Locally, 63 anti-Semitic incidents were reported for the year 2003, which nearly halved the 2002 total of 113. That’s the good news. The bad news is, in 2001, the Anti-Defamation League reported a scant 13 incidents.

According to the national ADL audit, there were 1,557 anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, virtually identical to the 1,559 reported in 2002 and well below the high

of 2,066 incidents reached in 1994. The ADL began tracking such incidents in 1983.

Continuing last year’s negative trend, the Bay Area incidents reported in 2002 and 2003 were more confrontational and aggressive than in years past, according to Rose Gabaeff, the ADL’s assistant regional director.

“We saw a lot more vandalism previously. There’s been quite a lot more assault and harassment in the past couple of years,” she said.

“We had an alarming increase [in 2002] just in the Bay Area. I’m glad to see the numbers are down, but they’re not where we’d like to see them.”

Nationally, the Bay Area continues to be a problem area for anti-Semitism. In 2003, 40 percent of the anti-Semitic incidents within the audit were categorized as vandalism, up 18 percent from the previous year, while harassment fell by 9 percent.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, cautions that the report is simply one “snapshot” among many that together form a broader picture. They include the ADL’s most recent biennial survey, in 2002, which showed that 17 percent of Americans, or 35 million adults, hold “unquestionably anti-Semitic” views, reversing a 10-year decline.

“There is enough to be worried about,” Foxman said.

But some say the outpouring of support for victims of anti-Semitic attacks reveals a much more common, and unprecedented, American embrace of the Jews.

Though even one attack is too many, there is a “chasm” between American Jews’ perception of insecurity and the reality, says Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University social scientist and historian.

On one side of the divide are American Jewish fears of anti-Semitism. A 2003 American Jewish Committee survey found that 37 percent of Jews consider anti-Semitism a “very serious” problem; 60 percent find it “somewhat” problematic; and 39 percent believe anti-Semitism will rise again.

On the opposite side are those Jewish social scientists and community professionals who insist that attention and resources should shift from combating anti-Semitism to concerns such as intermarriage and the need to promote Jewish education and identity-building.

They “see that non-Jews love Jews too much — so much that they’ll assimilate them away,” Sarna said.

Even those who follow anti-Semitism say milestones have been reached in recent years with the vice presidential and presidential candidacies of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), an observant Jew; the surprisingly strong presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, who has a Jewish wife and children; and the revelation of Jewish roots by presidential contenders Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

“History will record the elections of 2000 and 2004 as a watershed into what might be called the final stages of integration of Jews into American life,” Harris said.

Yet he and others maintain that the real concern lies in the fate of intergroup relations. American demographics are rapidly shifting, Harris noted, with the latest U.S. census predicting that 135 million immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East will arrive in the next half-century.

Joe Berkofsky is a JTA staff writer. Joe Eskenazi is a j. staff writer.