Screenshot from CCTV footage of the Schneerson Center in San Francisco, Feb. 1, 2023, as an intruder fires blanks into the room during a study session.
Screenshot from CCTV footage of the Schneerson Center in San Francisco, Feb. 1, 2023, as an intruder fires blanks into the room during a study session.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes quadrupled in San Francisco in 2023

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Hate crimes targeting Jews more than quadrupled in San Francisco last year compared with 2022, data from the San Francisco Police Department shows, spurred in large part by a dramatic uptick following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel.

SFPD recorded 23 anti-Jewish hate crimes in the city last year — as many as in the previous five years combined. In 2022, there were five; in 2021, there were eight.

More than half of last year’s hate crimes occurred in October.

The increase after Oct. 7 coincides with national trends for large American cities, according to Brian Levin, professor emeritus of criminal justice at CSU, San Bernardino, and the founder of its Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

SFPD reported anti-Jewish hate crimes 2023. (Photo/Courtesy of SFPD)
SFPD reported anti-Jewish hate crimes 2023. (Photo/Courtesy of SFPD)

In nine of the largest cities in the United States last year, hate crimes targeting Jews in October increased 285% compared with October 2022, Levin said, citing data aggregated from police departments, the FBI and other sources.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Levin told J.

Levin added that alongside the hate crime surge, 2023 saw increases in hate speech against Jews, a “recycling of various stereotypes” and the identification of “Jews, en masse, as legitimate targets for aggression and fears.”

Of the 63 hate crimes recorded overall in San Francisco in 2023, Jews were the most targeted group, accounting for more than one-third of the total at 23. People of Asian descent were second at 13.

The anti-Jewish hate crimes included 14 property crimes, four aggravated assault, three “intimidation,” one robbery and one simple assault.

Passersby stop to read Smitten Ice Cream owner Robyn Sue Fisher's message "To My San Francisco Community," posted on the boarded up windows of the local chain's Mission District location, Sunday evening, Nov. 5, 2023. (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)
Passersby stop to read Smitten Ice Cream owner Robyn Sue Fisher’s message “To My San Francisco Community,” posted on the boarded up windows of the local chain’s Mission District location on Nov. 5, 2023. (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)

The crimes included a shooting — with blank rounds — inside the Russian-speaking Schneerson Center in February, vandalism of a Jewish-owned ice cream shop in October and multiple instances of graffiti. Those included violent anti-Zionist graffiti that the police department recorded as an anti-Jewish hate crime, when someone scrawled “Death 2 Israel” and “Kill A Settler” during a downtown pro-Palestinian protest in mid-October.

Arrests have been infrequent, SFPD acknowledged. The vast majority of hate crimes remain open. The SFPD reported only one arrest for an anti-Jewish hate crime last year, for aggravated assault.

Officer Robert Rueca, a spokesperson for the police department, attributed the paucity of arrests to the difficulty inherent in investigating bias-motivated crimes.

SFPD reported anti-Jewish hate crimes 2001-2023. (Photo/Courtesy of SFPD)
SFPD reported anti-Jewish hate crimes 2001-2023. (Photo/Courtesy of SFPD)

“Due to the traumatic and emotionally charged nature of Hate Crime investigations, Hate Crime investigations must be conducted in a thorough and meticulous manner,” said the statement, emailed to J. on March 20. “It would be a disservice to the victims to charge a hate crime enhancement and have it dropped due to a lack of evidence. Hate Crime investigations need to prove that Bigotry was the primary motivation to an incident taking place.”

A week prior to Rueca’s email, a 39-year-old former Lyft driver was arrested on a hate crime charge for allegedly punching a Jewish Israeli passenger in the face at San Francisco International Airport in late October. The FBI’s San Francisco field office led that investigation, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Regionally, San Francisco was not alone in its rise of outbursts of antisemitic expression last year. The Bay Area as a whole saw a major spike in anti-Jewish “incidents,” which include crimes and non-criminal acts, following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack and amid the ongoing war, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“There’s often a rise in antisemitism when there is a conflict between Israel and Hamas that we’ve seen in the past,” said Marc Levine, regional director for the ADL in San Francisco, “but this is beyond anything that has been recorded.”

“The Bay Area is the fourth largest Jewish population in the U.S. And we were the second in reported incidents of antisemitism across the country” after New York, Levine added. “What you saw, anecdotally, were Jewish-owned businesses vandalized. You have a visceral sense of a physical threat to the community, that is felt by Jews throughout the Bay Area.”

The region’s “incidents” have included, for example, protesters shouting down a Holocaust survivor at a city council meeting this week in Berkeley, the distribution of antisemitic hate literature and the mailing of antisemitic postcards to local politicians, which happened multiple times last year.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.