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Antisemitic incidents historically high in DMV despite slight national decline

In its 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, the Anti-Defamation League reports D.C. saw a 126% increase in incidents compared to the year before.

WASHINGTON — When it comes to incidents of antisemitism, new data revealed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) showed the D.C. region is heading in the wrong direction.

The 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, unveiled Tuesday, found there were 2,024 reported antisemitic incidents in the country, a 4% decrease compared to 2019. While there was a slight decrease, it still is the third-highest year on record since the group began tracking in 1979. ADL is particularly concerned about the increase in harassment last year. 

The District had 43 incidents reported in 2020, a 126% increase from the 19 incidents in 2019. There were 27 reports of harassment, a jump from 13 the year before. The number of assaults had a 200% spike, meaning there were two in 2020, but none in 2019. Cases of vandalism were up to 14 compared to 6 in 2019. 

In Maryland, there were 47 reported antisemitic incidents in 2020, which was a 135% jump from 20 in the previous year. The state ranked 11th in the country with the highest number of reports. Vandalism stayed at 11 incidents, but harassment cases rose to 35 incidents from 8 in 2019. There was one assault case, which was the same as the year before. 

The numbers were even higher in Virginia with reports of 49 antisemitic incidents last year. The cases were already 28 in 2019. Sixteen incidents accounted for vandalism in 2020, when it was 12 in 2019. The commonwealth saw a 106% increase in harassment, going from 16 in 2019 to 33 the following year. There were no reports of assault over the last five years. 

Credit: ADL
In its 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, the Anti-Defamation League reports D.C. saw a 126% increase in incidents compared to 2019.

ADL said the Jewish community and other minority groups were blamed or scapegoated for spreading COVID-19.

"We remain deeply concerned about these growing trends of hate and bigotry in our communities,” ADL Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest Division Doron F. Ezickson said. 

As the country transitioned to functioning in a virtual world over the course of one year, it was clear online hate and harassment spiked. 

While incidents of antisemitism at schools and colleges declined as learning moved online, there was an increase in antisemitic "Zoombombings." The purposeful disruption of live video calls made up 196 incidents across the country. The majority of the cases targeted Jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues. 

Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I said her synagogue was one of many that had its service disrupted with misogynistic screen shares and Nazi imagery. In 2019, a suspect defaced the synagogue with antisemitic messages. In response, the community showed its support by creating chalk art that denounced hate. 

RELATED: Suspect arrested after anti-Semitic graffiti reported at DC synagogue

Stutman said while the recent ADL data can be disheartening, she hopes it's a reminder that there's more love than hate. 

"People are speaking up now more and people know it can actually make a difference," Stutman said. "There are a lot of people who are willing to stand up and say this is not acceptable and this is not how we want to be in America."

The ADL also tracked other cases of racist and other hateful messages last year. Combined with antisemitic messages, the number of reports surpassed more than 5,000 cases, a tenfold increase from 2017.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said as the trend maintains at a high level, there are opportunities to mitigate problems of hate from a personal to a government level. 

"Law enforcement, particularly local and state law enforcement, do not have the resources and some instances the will to actually record the essential how it happened, where it happened and to whom it happened data," Racine said. 

The ADL is advocating for Congress to pass the pending Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act to provide funding support to state and local law enforcement investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

"Antisemitism and hate is ongoing," Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington Executive Director Ron Halber told WUSA9.  

With 300,000 Jews in the D.C. area -- the third-largest Jewish community in the country -- Halber said the makeup of the number of institutions can make the DMV an easy target. 

However, much like the ADL, he advocates for leaders to use their bully pulpits to speak out against all hateful acts no matter the community, for the government to increase security funding for houses of worship and better education in schools and law enforcement. 

The JCRC has worked with Montgomery County Schools to strengthen protocols for reporting hate, offer a program that allows Jewish students to have meetings with non-Jewish students to demistify what Judaism means to them and helped push the Commonwealth of Virginia to include $1.5 million in its budget to provide security for faith-based institutions. 

"Unfortunately, antisemitism is a thousands-year-old disease that we don't have the antidote for," Halber said. 

RELATED: Arrest made in connection to stabbing at rabbi's New York home

RELATED: Following rise in anti-Semitic attacks, Jewish leaders and DC officials work together to increase security

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