Graffiti on the wall of Manny’s café in San Francisco's Mission District, June 6, 2021. (Photo/Steven Buss)
Graffiti on the wall of Manny’s café in San Francisco's Mission District, June 6, 2021. (Photo/Steven Buss)

Antisemitic incidents at all-time high in 2021, ADL finds

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Antisemitic incidents across the U.S. were at an all-time high last year, according to a national audit by the Anti-Defamation League, while incidents in Northern California remained close to the previous year’s numbers.

The annual audit, released April 26, counted 70 incidents in Northern California in 2021, compared to 64 the year prior. It included 28 instances of vandalism and 42 of harassment, either online or in person.

Across the state, antisemitic incidents increased 27 percent, from 289 in 2020 to 367 in 2021. Of those, 15 were physical assaults, compared with four in 2020.

The U.S. as a whole experienced an uptick in reported antisemitic incidents, the ADL found, with 2,717 instances of assault, harassment and vandalism reported. That is the highest number on record since the ADL began keeping track in 1979. Previously the highest count was in 2019, with 2,107 recorded incidents. In 2020, the ADL reported 2,026 incidents.

Seth Brysk, the ADL’s S.F.-based regional director, said that “incidents” are defined as direct acts against individuals, businesses or institutions such as schools or places of worship. Such incidents could include vandalism, assault or harassment.

“We’re talking about incidents where there was antisemitism expressed — not the protests against Israel … not someone saying they don’t like Israel, or they hate Israel,” Brysk told the J. “That’s not fairly an antisemitic incident. Rather, these were specific instances of antisemitism being expressed.”

Among the incidents cited was the vandalism of Manny’s, a Jewish-owned café in the Mission District of San Francisco, in June 2021 in the wake of heavy fighting in Gaza and Israel. The words “Zionist Pigz” and “Racist Pigz” were spray-painted on the building.

To record incidents of antisemitism, the ADL partners with law enforcement agencies and Jewish organizations, such as the L.A. Federation’s Community Security Initiative, Hillel International, the Secure Community Network (the safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America), the Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Nearly 20% of the incidents nationwide the ADL tallied were attributable to right-wing actors, according to the report, which notes a sharp rise in the distribution of antisemitic propaganda by groups such as the Goyim Defense League. A messianic synagogue in Sacramento was plastered with flyers by another group, Aryan Nations, in October 2021, leading to a felony charge for desecrating a religious symbol (flyers stating “Hitler was right” were attached to a life-size menorah on the grounds).

Goyim Defense League members hang an antisemitic banner from an overpass in Austin, Texas, Oct. 24, 2021. (Screenshot/CBS Austin)
Goyim Defense League members hang an antisemitic banner from an overpass in Austin, Texas, Oct. 24, 2021. (Screenshot/CBS Austin)

The ADL also documented a surge in incidents linked to the May 2021 round of deadly clashes between Israel and Hamas, which made global headlines.

“Jews were being attacked in the streets for no other reason than the fact that they were Jewish, and it seemed as if the working assumption was that if you were Jewish, you were blameworthy for what was happening half a world away,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

To combat rising antisemitism, the ADL works on preventive measure such as youth and law enforcement education, teaching community members how to recognize and respond to antisemitism. The ADL, whose S.F.-based Central Pacific Region office serves Northern California, Utah and Hawaii, is also involved in working to enact laws on both local and federal levels that improve prevention tactics and response. The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California is partnering with the ADL on a legislative agenda to combat hate and antisemitism in California.

It is vital for community members to report instances of antisemitism they experience, Brysk said, whether to the police or to the ADL through its online portal. Reports help the ADL form policy and better respond to future incidents.

“Even one antisemitic incident is one too many,” Brysk said.

JTA contributed to this report.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.