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Antisemitism Surges Around World as Israel, Hamas Clash


Members of Colombia's Israeli community erase antisemitic graffiti outside Israel's Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 9, 2023, two days after Hamas fighters launched a deadly surprise attack against Israel.
Members of Colombia's Israeli community erase antisemitic graffiti outside Israel's Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 9, 2023, two days after Hamas fighters launched a deadly surprise attack against Israel.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas rages for another day, many Jews around the world face a familiar threat: a surge in antisemitism.

From New York to London, St. Louis to Sydney, Jewish communities are grappling with hate and bigotry that often flare up whenever the Middle East erupts.

"It's just a sad fact that whenever conflict arises between Israel and the Palestinians, Jews in all parts of the world will suffer some level of hate violence," said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

Israel plunged into a bloody nightmare Saturday when Hamas militants unleashed a surprise onslaught, killing at least 1,000 Israelis, wounding more than 2,000, and taking some 150 as hostages.

Brian Levin, a prominent extremism researcher and professor emeritus at California State University, San Bernardino, said the carnage amounted to "the worst single-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust."

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the attack as "an act of sheer evil."

Israel's retaliatory airstrikes against targets in Gaza have been equally deadly, killing at least 1,100 Palestinians and leaving more than 5,000 others wounded, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Threats surge

While Hamas' brutal assault has spurred sympathy for Israel, it also has sparked a surge of online threats against Jews, intimidation of Jewish institutions and brazen displays of antisemitic symbols.

Anti-Jewish threats on Telegram, a platform popular with Islamic State militants and white supremacists, surged by an alarming 488% in the first 18 hours of Saturday, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the oldest Jewish civil rights group in the United States.

Offline, there have been sporadic reports of antisemitic incidents. In Salt Lake City, Utah, a synagogue was forced to evacuate after receiving a bomb threat. Police are investigating threats against a number of synagogues in the state.

In St. Louis, Missouri, a swastika was spray-painted on the side of a truck. Police said they were investigating it as an act of antisemitic vandalism.

And in London, a kosher restaurant was vandalized in the Golders Green section of the city. Mayor Sadiq Khan said, "There will be no tolerance for hate."

The first four days of the conflict saw a surge of over 300% in antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom, according to Community Security Trust.

Pro-Palestinian protests around the world have sometimes taken on an anti-Jewish overtone, according to extremism experts.

In New York City, a protester attending a pro-Hamas rally on Sunday was seen brandishing a swastika, leading Mayor Eric Adams to condemn the protest.

In Sydney, unverified footage distributed by the Australian Jewish Association appeared to show a group of protesters outside the Sydney Opera House shouting, "Gas the Jews." Police are investigating the incident.

Pro-Hamas rallies in US

The American Jewish Committee said it has recorded about a dozen pro-Hamas protests in several U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago.

Holly Huffnagle, U.S. director of antisemitism at the AJC, said the Jewish advocacy group backs Palestinian rights but warns that the protests extend from criticism of Israel to antisemitism and conspiracies about Jews.

"This is support for Hamas as a terrorist group," she said.

Addressing a group of American Jewish leaders Wednesday afternoon, President Biden acknowledged the war in Israel has led to a rise in hate and antisemitism.

Joined by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish and serves as the White House’s point person on combating antisemitism, Biden said his administration was taking “meaningful actions … to fight back against antisemitism and hate.”

With Israel poised for a massive ground assault on Gaza and no end in sight, experts predict a surge of antisemitic incidents in the days ahead as the conflict intensifies.

"Considering that the current escalation will be longer and most intense, we should expect a more substantial increase in antisemitism in comparison to previous escalations in the conflict," said Arie Perliger, a professor at the School of Criminology and Justice Studies at the University of Massachusetts.

Surge in attacks

The recent surge in antisemitic attacks is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a long-standing pattern, Levin said.

In October 2000, violent protests in Israel triggered a 152% spike in antisemitic hate crimes in the United States, according to Levin's research.

In May 2021, clashes between Israel and Hamas led to a 187% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes in New York City and a nearly four-fold increase in antisemitic hate in Los Angeles.

"We saw spikes in London, and indeed, nearly every major European country that reported antisemitic hate crimes for 2021 showed increases," Levin said.

The ADL reported earlier this year that incidents of assault, vandalism and harassment targeting Jews in the United States rose to new "historic levels" in 2022.

Tom Copeland, director of research at the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, said 2023 has been another record year for antisemitic activity.

"It's a long-term trend in the U.S. and in the U.K. as well," Copeland said in an interview. "So, it does seem that from this weekend, certainly on social media, especially on Telegram [and] to a certain extent on TikTok, all of the voices that are antisemitic are emerging once again."

But Jews are not the only targets of hate when violence flares up in the Middle East.

In 1985, Palestinian activist Alex Odeh was killed in California by a pipe bomb allegedly set off by extremist American Jews. The case remains unresolved.

In 1994, American Israeli extremist Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshippers and wounded 125 others inside a mosque in Hebron in the West Bank.

The recent conflict has also spawned isolated acts of Islamophobia. On Tuesday, a sign at a Muslim religious academy in Boston was defaced with the word "Nazis,” sparking calls for a hate crime investigation.

The Council on Islamic American Relations said on Wednesday it has received a flood of reports of Palestinian and Muslim students facing harassment for their advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian territories.

Levin noted that violence in the Middle East usually triggers less anti-Muslim hate crimes than anti-Jewish incidents. But this time, he warned of a serious backlash against Muslims and Arabs as Americans have fallen victim to attacks and kidnappings.

Maha Elgenaidi, founder and executive director of California-based Islamic Networks Group, condemned the recent acts of antisemitism as "horrific."

"I just think it's fueling the anti-Semitism that has always existed in the United States and throughout Europe," Elgenaidi, an Egyptian American, said.

She said that while dialogue is the key to healing the rift between Jews and Muslims, the pain inflicted on both sides is too fresh to enable an interfaith conversation.

"A lot of people that I know have family in Gaza and that have been directly hurt and the same thing with Jewish friends that I've spoken with," she said.