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Jewish Journal

Anti-Semitic Acts Climb On Campuses

by Rachel Pomerance

March 27, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Rick Dorfman may be the human face of the latest findings in the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) annual report of anti-Semitic incidents across the country.

Though the incident had not yet been confirmed by police as anti-Semitic by press time, the University of Michigan junior was punched in the head by a stranger at a bowling alley outside Ann Arbor, Mich., on Monday while wearing a pro-Israel shirt.

A key finding in the ADL's Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, publicly released this month, showed anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses climbed to 106 in 2002, an increase of 24 percent over 2001.

Overall, the report showed a slight increase in activity over the previous year, with 1,559 anti-Jewish incidents reported in 2002, up from 1,432 in 2001.

Referring to the group's June survey on anti-Semitism, which showed an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes that reversed a 10-year decline, Myrna Shinbaum, ADL's director of media relations, said, "It's not surprising to see that some of these attitudes have been acted out."

According to Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, unprecedented security at Jewish institutions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has prevented more incidents.

"Certainly in New York," he said, "there's a much greater awareness than in many other cities," because of the high number of "Jews and Jewish institutions and law enforcement's concern and awareness. We are deeply concerned that despite the strides we have made over the years, anti-Semitic incidents continue to be carried out in large numbers." 

The audit revealed a mixed picture in states across the country, with some states showing an increase in the number of incidents and others showing a drop.

There was a dramatic increase in the reported number of attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in California. In California, the most significant increase was noted in the San Francisco Bay Area.  While the Southern California regions did not experience dramatic change, the only fatal anti-Semitic eventoccurred in Los Angeles on July 4th at LAX.  "We remain vigilant and concerned, especially in light of the events taking place around the world," said Amanda Susskind, Regional Director of the Pacific Southwest Regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

The number of incidents in New York, the state with the most anti-Semitic activity in the country, decreased 25 percent. State variations depend on local situations and local culture, according to Shinbaum.

The ADL audit, published since 1988, breaks down anti-Semitic incidents into two categories. One is harassment, defined as "threats and assaults directed at individuals and institutions," which comprised 75 percent of incidents reported. The other category is vandalism, which includes cemetery desecration or anti-Semitic graffiti.

Information is compiled from official crime statistics, along with reports to ADL's 30 regional offices from victims, community leaders and law enforcement officials.

The long-term trends point to less anti-Semitism in the country as the United States becomes more sophisticated and better educated. However, certain world events, like the current Palestinian intifada, have spiked anti-Israel activity, which, in some cases, results in increased anti-Semitic activity, according to those who track such developments. Most incidents occur where there are large Jewish populations.

The rise of campus activity marked the third year of an upward trend, according to the ADL. Many of the events grew out of anti-Israel demonstrations on campus.

For example, among the episodes reported were a vandalized sukkah at the University of Colorado. The incident followed a campus visit by Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi.

"Regional hostilities have often created a trigger or excuse for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity off the campus, as well on campus, and we saw a number of disturbing incidents first semester, which were largely addressed immediately by the university officials," said Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a coordinating body for Jewish groups working on campus.

However,  it's important to put the data in perspective, he said.

"In real numbers, it's not a huge amount of activity," Firestone said, noting that the report indicated 100 incidents on several thousand campuses. "Overall, campuses are a safe and supportive environment for Jewish students in America. On the other hand, we have to be more vigilant at times of regional tension [in the Middle East]."

Among the audit's other findings, reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the San Francisco Bay Area rose dramatically. In 2002, a total of 118 incidents were reported, up from 13 the previous year. Incidents directed at Jewish institutions rose from one to 39.

Overall, reports of vandalism reached a 20-year low, with 531 reported incidents in 2002. Over the past three years, vandalism incidents have declined 27 percent. According to the ADL, the decrease is a result of increased security measures, while would-be vandals may find outlets elsewhere, like the Internet.

While the ADL said that it could not quantify anti-Semitic activity on the Internet, the group noted that the Internet "continued to play a substantial role in the dissemination of anti-Semitism, with hate literature being transmitted through hundreds of sites on the Web."

The states showing the largest numbers of reported incidents in 2002 were New York, with 302, down from 408 the previous year; New Jersey, 171, down from 192; Massachussetts, 129, up from 126; Pennsylvania, 101, up from 61; and Florida, 93, down from 115.  

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