In 1998, 1,611 acts of vandalism and harassment directed against Jews were reported in 42 states and the District of Columbia -- 40 more than in 1997, an increase of more than 2 percent -- the ADL's annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents found.
While the number of incidents involving harassment, threat or assault held steady, from 898 in 1997 to 896 in 1998, cases of vandalism rose by 6 percent, to 715. The highest number of vandalism incidents occurred in states with large Jewish populations -- 177 in New York and 166 in New Jersey.
These acts include destruction of synagogues and other Jewish institutions, ranging from graffiti to arson. Defacement of private property and cemeteries was also counted, as well as anti-Semitic graffiti on public property.
In 1998, the audit notes, there were two acts of arson, one arson attempt, four bomb threats and one bombing attempt.
According to the report, the number of Jewish cemetery desecrations slid to 10, from last year's 14 incidents.
In a statement released with the audit, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman expressed concern over the prevalence of vandalism because "an attack on a synagogue is an attack on an entire community."
Still, ADL officials said that the minimal change does not indicate a major trend in national attitudes toward Jews.
"Any increase is disturbing," said Kenneth Jacobson, ADL's assistant national director. "But it's too early to make some definitive judgment that we're heading into a period of constant increase."
Jacobson said that there was no specific explanation for why attacks against Jews increased slightly last year, and he noted that the decline during the past few years paralleled a national drop in crime.
One of the report's more hopeful signs is a decline in anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, down from 104 in 1997 to 86 in 1998.
One exception to the brighter campus picture was Bradley Smith's Committee for Open Debate. The group placed Holocaust denials in advertisements and opinion pieces in 26 college newspapers nationwide, six more than in 1997.
According to Jacobson, the ADL has worked to educate college newspaper editors about their rights to refuse to print advertisements and articles that they deem to be "hateful."
Overall, the findings of anti-Semitic incidents for 1998 are well below the 10-year average of 1,741. The total for 1997 -- 1,571 -- represented the lowest number of incidents since 1989, when 1,432 incidents were reported. The numbers peaked in 1994 at 2,066 incidents.
This year's report calls for "cautious optimism." It cites the FBI's annual report on hate crimes, which showed that, in 1998, Jews and Jewish institutions were the targets of nearly 80 percent of all such acts perpetrated on the basis of religion.
Despite the enactment in recent years of laws that increase the penalties for hate crimes -- all but 10 of the states have passed such legislation -- many incidents reported in the ADL's audit are not considered crimes.
In many cases, however, the audit indicates swift response outside the criminal justice system on the part of local communities.
Meanwhile, the ADL and other hate-speech monitoring groups are keeping a wary eye on the Internet, where anti-Semitic and racist organizations can easily and inexpensively disseminate propaganda with little regulation.
The ADL audit also notes the findings of the League for Human Rights of Canadian B'nai B'rith, which showed a 14-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada in 1998. Moreover, it points to a growing climate of anti-Semitism in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
A 25-member ADL delegation was meeting this week with Russian government and Jewish leaders to discuss the recent surge in anti-Jewish activity and remarks by politicians.