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Anti-Semitic incidents spark worries of a trend

REUTERS/Tom Mihalek
A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A bomb threat made in St. Paul last week was just one of 11 similar threats made to Jewish community centers across the country that day — part of what appears to be an uptick in anti-Semitic acts in Minnesota and nationwide.

In total, Jewish community centers have received more than 80 bomb threats in just the last two weeks. Additionally, nearly 200 gravestones at a historic Jewish cemetery outside St. Louis, Missouri were tipped over or otherwise damaged last week. The bomb threats all turned out to be hoaxes, but the string of events led President Trump to make his first-ever public denouncement of hate crimes last week, calling them “horrible” and “painful.”

In Minnesota, reported anti-Semitic acts have risen from 12 incidents in 2015 to 21 incidents in 2016, according to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC). This year, eight incidents have been reported through February, including another bomb threat made against a Jewish community center in St. Louis Park last month and a series of anti-Semitic graffiti on the University of Minnesota campus that resulted in one student getting arrested. 

“Of course, they’re not all reported to us,” said JCRC executive director Steve Hunegs, regarding anti-Semitic acts committed in Minnesota. “Nevertheless, you can see that year over year there’s an increase. Perhaps a trend is developing.”

Crimes on the rise

Hunegs said it’s hard to draw too many conclusions about the recent anti-Semitic acts in Minnesota, but there does seem to be a rising trend in religiously-motivated hate crimes across the nation. On Monday, more than a dozen Jewish community centers and several day-schools across the country received threatening phone calls. Locally, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was recently discovered in a bathroom at Lakeville South High School.

According to the FBI’s 2015 report on hate crime statistics, nationwide hate crimes rose by 6 percent between 2014 and 2015, but religiously-motivated hate crimes rose nearly 23 percent. Most of those incidents targeted Jewish people, but Muslim-Americans also experienced a significant growth in hate crimes with a 67 percent increase from 2014.

Carin Mrotz, from Jewish Community Action in St. Paul, said she’s worried hate crimes may continue to grow in the state. Back in November, she helped clean off a swastika that was spray painted on a garage in north Minneapolis. But for days following the event, she said, her organization was relentlessly harassed on Twitter by people saying the act was a hoax and accusing Mrotz’s organization of spray-painting the symbol themselves.

Those exchanges and the high number of anti-Semitic incidents occurring afterward have left Mrotz a little shaken. “Honestly, it does seem like it’s on the rise and I don’t know if that’s going to stop,” she said.

Anti-Semitic acts on the University of Minnesota campus over the last two months have also spurred a strong reaction from the university’s president, Eric Kaler, who released a statement last week saying he was “profoundly disturbed” by what he called an upsurge in bias crimes locally and nationally that are targeting the Jewish community, as well as other religious, racial, immigrant and LGBTQ communities.

In St. Paul, the bomb threat — as well as a bomb threat made in St. Louis Park a month prior — are both being investigated by federal and local agents, said FBI spokesperson Jeff Van Nest. “These types of threats are taken very seriously by us,” he said, “and at the end of the day, we are really looking to hold the individual or individuals accountable for this type of threatening behavior and the disruption it causes in our community.”

Unifying the community

Hunegs said that while the bomb threats made in St. Paul and St. Louis Park may have disrupted the day for hundreds of members using the community center’s facilities, the silver lining is that the threats also brought the community together in support. “That’s an important point,” Hunegs said. “These malicious people … another thing they’re doing is unifying the community in the face of hate.”

JaNaé Bates from ISAIAH, a Minnesota-based coalition of churches, said as soon as they heard about the bomb threat in St. Louis Park, they immediately reached out to the Jewish community to offer their support and stand with them in solidarity against hate crimes. “A threat against anyone is a threat against everyone,” Bates said. “We absolutely stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, another coalition of faith communities, also reached out to the Jewish community after the St. Louis Park bomb threat to give their condolences and denounce the act. The coalition sent the JCRC a letter signed by more than 200 clergy members from all over Minnesota, and from all different religions, said the group’s executive director Randi Roth. “There were leaders in the Muslim community … leaders in the Lutheran church, leaders in the Presbyterian church and the Catholic church,” she said.

Bates said these threats are part of a larger discord developing against different religious and immigrant groups across the country. But in the end, she said, she believes these events will only give more reason to unite the community. “It’s quite disheartening but … people you would not usually think of as allies are certainly aligning across religions, across nationalities, across a million different backgrounds,” Bates said.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Nick Foreman on 02/28/2017 - 05:28 pm.

    This telling article is a true

    Warning of the dangers of the extreme right wingers

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/28/2017 - 09:16 pm.

      Maybe not

      Anti-Semitism used to come from the right but lately it is mostly coming from the Left https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/06/us/debate-on-a-jewish-student-at-ucla.html?_r=0.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/01/2017 - 01:09 pm.

        Wow

        I find it amazing that you can draw such a conclusion about a single article about a single situation that doesn’t discuss political leanings. By the way, as someone on the left, I can see how one can be thoroughly disgusted with Israel and have no problem with people who are Jewish in general. But then, as a proud American, I can also see how one can be disgusted by Trump and his supporters while still loving my country and many of my fellow Americans.

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/01/2017 - 06:50 pm.

          If you read the entire NYT piece, you would have noticed that it specifically talks about anti-Semitism on college campuses and ties it to the BDS movement which is coming fully from the left. Sure, I don’t have a problem with people who are “disgusted with Israel.” I have problems with people who are disgusted with Israel more than they are disgusted with Syria, Iran, China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, etc. because the only reason for that “extra disgust” with Israel (and that is what BDS is) is anti-Semitism, meaning that that those people do have problems with Jews even if they don’t want to admit it. And that is what is going on college campuses…

          • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/02/2017 - 12:49 pm.

            No

            It doesn’t. It does make a mention that anti-semitic incidents are on the rise, directed particularly at young Jews. It does not say anything about political affiliation. That is entirely your own conclusion. Also, I’m not sure why you’re so bothered by college campuses. Are you assuming that only liberals bother to advance their education? Even if that wasn’t so incredibly wrong, it begs the question as to why you get so skeevy about liberals.

            As for the level of disgust with different countries, it’s irrelevant. First, there are a lot of bad leaders that direct their countries to do bad things. The direction of the stone throwing doesn’t indicate who’s the biggest sinner. Second, I’m not sure why you have drawn the conclusion that anyone who’s disgusted with Israel is more disgusted or less disgusted with any of the other countries you list. As for me, add the good ol’ USA to the list, and I see a good group of leaders that need to be spanked pretty equally.

            Again, I must point out that you seem to always put Russia on the list of Really Rotten Places in this world until it’s inconvenient to your political point of view. It’s a bit boggling why you would get so irritated at the thought of someone like me allegedly not being disgusted enough with Russia until someone like me points out that being all cozy with Russia is a flaw in leadership for Trump. Not only does that suggest that people like me not only don’t trust Russia, but that we trust it so little that we complain when our elections are manipulated by Russia, and that maybe our own leader is compromised by financial and political ties to Russia. Yet, you seem perfectly ok with Trump being in bed with Putin. Is that not boggling?

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/02/2017 - 06:02 pm.

            Unfortunately, it does

            Most colleges have a significant prevalence of liberal views – both among professors and students (the latter may be explained by combination of good intentions and naiveté of the youths). I think I provided links several times before in my comments supporting this fact and it is also my experience. On the other hand, according to the news, many of those anti-Semitic acts take place either as part of student government organizations or as part of BDS actions, meaning that they do come from the left.

            Of course, I do not have anything against liberals in general even though I disagree with many of their views. My attributing recent anti-Semitism to them comes from the facts, such as statements coming from people on the left (recent scandal in British Labor party is an example). And yes, supporting BDS is anti-Semitic because it singles Israel out since people advocating for this do not advocate for boycott of Cuba or Iran (actually, in most cases, they support quite the opposite) even though those countries are huge violators of human rights. So yes, if one throws stones only in one direction, it does indicate who that person thinks the biggest sinner is.

            Now, about Russia. I don’t like Putin and I do not want Trump to be cozy with Putin which means that I am not OK with Trump being in bed with Putin – so nothing boggling here. However, I remember “reset” with Russia which was happening with full support of the Democratic Party and I remember Obama’s letting Putin do whatever he wanted in Ukraine and Syria (which makes outrage about interfering in our elections insincere considering that people were dying in Ukraine and Syria). On the other hand, I am still not convinced that Trump is Putin’s friend (I think just this week Russia had to veto anti-Syrian resolution) and Putin managed to get into position in the world that Russia’s interests should be considered now. Plus, shouldn’t we be talking to our enemies? Why Kerry can do it for four years with no results and Trump can’t?

          • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/03/2017 - 10:28 am.

            Unfortunately

            Your assertions, in the absence of any objective evidence, does not change what the article says. Your conclusions on the incidence of “liberal” anti-Semitism are your own. It’s really hard to have any reasonable conversation with someone who insists that their opinions dictate the facts.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/03/2017 - 02:45 pm.

            Yes, unfortunately

            Unfortunately, I am right in my assertions and my opinion is dictated by facts (which I’d prefer did not exist). Apparently, at least the first suspect arrested for threatening Jews did not come from the neo-Nazis https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/03/03/missouri-man-arrested-charged-with-threats-against-jewish-facilities/?utm_term=.9a7694b22bb7. And of course, many people pointed out growing anti-Semitism coming from the left: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/08/opinion/an-anti-semitism-of-the-left.html?_r=0, http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/01/25/creating_change_protest_of_a_wider_bridge_was_anti_semitic.html – these are just a couple links where people from the left recognize the problem (and still manage to single out Israel thus supporting anti-Semitism they profess to abhor). But unfortunately, you prefer to ignore the inconvenient truth rather than answer my question: How can BDS and its supporters explain their singling out Israel if it is not anti-Semitism?

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