By Ben Cooper
For Mitzpeh

The increase in anti-Semitism in the U.S. in 2017 was the highest ever since data was first collected in 1979, according to a new study published by the Anti-Defamation League.

The study, published in February, shows that anti-Semitism increased by 57 percent in 2017 and said incidents in schools and on college campuses nearly doubled.

Washington, D.C. had the highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents per person in 2017—nearly twice as much as the second-highest, Massachusetts, according to an analysis of the study and census data. Maryland had the 14th-highest rate per person.

The study divided anti-Semitism into three categories: harassment, vandalism and assault. Vandalism increased the most of the three—86 percent over one year.

In October, The Diamondback reported that a man was identified and charged by University of Maryland Police with malicious destruction of property after a swastika was found spray-painted on a trash cart.

The Anti-Defamation League’s study also offered suggestions for combating anti-Semitism. It called for new legislation, training of college faculty to respond to anti-Semitic incidents, and victims and bystanders to report what they see.

A former professor at this university, Melissa Landa, claims she was fired in 2017 for being “pro-Israel.” This university launched an investigation and dismissed the complaint in fall 2017.

Landa said she was not surprised by the reported increase in anti-Semitism and acknowledged the importance of students having a faculty member to support them.

“This is something that causes me great pain because I think it’s very difficult for students when they don’t have faculty mentors who can support them and stand by them, which is something that I did a lot,” Landa said. “I had many, many Jewish students come to me with concerns and frustrations asking my advice, asking if I could speak up for them. … That’s very painful for me, that I no longer play that role.”

While it’s unclear as to exactly why anti-Semitic incidents are increasing in the U.S., some point to the political climate.

“It seems that bigots have been acting out a lot more, so it’s not that surprising,” said a student at this university who wished to remain anonymous. “[It’s] probably because they all supported President Trump … they feel validated whether or not he agrees with them.”

According to its website, the Anti-Defamation League’s mission is to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Photo by the Anti-Defamation League, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Los Angeles Times article that covered the Anti-Defamation League’s study referenced criticism that Trump drew last year for “deliberately leaving out the mention of Jews in a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

Chad Simon, a sophomore bioengineering major, said he’s passionate about expressing his Judaism so that people who haven’t met a Jewish person can become more aware and understanding of the religion.

“I’ve had kids that have said ‘I’ve never met a Jew like you,’” Simon said. “It’s important to get out of your bubble and introduce yourself. It’s extremely important to be identifiably Jewish.”

The ADL study’s authors conceded that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents may have just been because more people are reporting the things they see.

Simon also said college is a perfect time to talk about issues that might be taboo in other situations. “College is the most diversity kids will experience in their lives. [In college], it’s okay to talk about diversity and religion. When you’re at work, it’s not acceptable to talk about those things.”

Landa echoed similar thoughts, and hopes students will start speaking out more against the hateful acts occurring across the country. “We really need to start speaking up and calling out what we’re seeing and saying why it’s so problematic.”

Rabbi Eli Backman agreed, and said that college provides non-Jewish students a unique opportunity to interact with the Jewish community, which he says is one way to reduce anti-Semitism on campuses.

“Education is one of the antidotes to ‘-isms.’ … When people come to campus and interact with Jewish students … usually that’s one of the better ways of combating it in a real way,” Backman said. “Billboards, sound clips — all of those are important but they don’t really get to the heart of the matter.”

Backman, a chaplain for Chabad at this university, also stressed that interacting with the Jewish community can dispel stereotypes or preconceived notions.

“The first part of the answer [to reducing anti-Semitic incidents] begins with having an ability to share, to teach and to interact with people in such a way that they realize that the Jewish community is not what they may have been told it is,” he said. “They’re not the boogeyman, if you wish, that’s hiding out there trying to get you.”


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