The Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday that it had tallied a sharp uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in California last year, many of them involving taunts, threats and insults by adolescents and teenagers.
In one typical example, the league said, a Jewish middle school teacher in Los Angeles found swastikas drawn on her classroom door and a note, also featuring swastikas, that read, "You're next."
"These are not necessarily kids who are filled with hatred in their hearts and mean to be malicious," said Amanda Susskind, regional director for the organization. Some of the acts are seemingly casual, and reflect a sensibility in which "hate is hip," she said. She said the trend was troubling and may reflect the pervasiveness of hate speech on the Internet.
She also blamed the broader increase in anti-Semitic incidents, some of them violent, on the confluence of three events: the election of President Obama, the recession and the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. Combined, she said, they had emboldened extremists and led to a coarsening of the tone of national debate.
She added that the arrest and conviction of rogue financier Bernard Madoff, who is Jewish, contributed to a lot of anti-Semitic "chatter."
One former regional director of the league, David Lehrer, took exception to Susskind's analysis, saying it was wrong to focus on "idiots … and random sociopaths" who, he believes, have little influence in American society.
"By every metric that measures acceptance and tolerance, America is more accepting of differences and diversity than ever in our history," said Lehrer, president of a nonprofit organization, Community Advocates, that is critical of conventional approaches to civil rights.
The Anti-Defamation League's report also seems at odds with a report on hate crime issued last week by California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. That survey showed that crimes motivated by anti-Semitism declined in 2009, as did crimes motivated by hatred against other religious and ethnic groups. Overall, Brown's report showed a 20% drop in offenses that are deemed hate crimes.
Susskind said the league was monitoring a much broader range of incidents, many of which are not crimes. She also noted that in Brown's report, 76% of the hate crimes motivated by religious bias were against Jews. Muslims were next, at 6%.
Although the league found that reports of anti-Semitic acts in California increased by 20% for the second straight year, the organization's figures show anti-Semitic acts nationally declining from 1,352 in 2008 to 1,211 last year. However, the league noted that it had raised the bar in some regions for what counts as anti-Semitism — for example, including reports of swastikas only when they were clearly aimed at Jews.
In California, Susskind said, the league had already been applying the stricter standards after finding that swastikas sometimes reflected hatred for groups other than Jews and sometimes had no apparent meaning as symbols of hate.