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Number of anti-Semitic incidents sees largest rise in 40 years

National Public Radio
Headstones vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, a week after another Jewish cemetery was desecrated in St. Louis..

"There is a sea change taking place and we can't have our heads buried in the sand." That is from the New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, which released another troubling audit of anti-Semitic incidents across the country.

This year's annual "Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents" reports nearly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents across the United States in 2017, a 57-percent increase from 2016. New York State (380 incidents) topped the list and with five other states with large Jewish populations (California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Pennsylvania, respectively), accounted for 62 percent of all incidents.

However, New York Regional Director Evan Bernstein said the numbers are probably underreported for fear of reprisal, especially in less metropolitan areas with low numbers of Jewish supporters.

Bernstein said particularly concerning is the 100-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents at K-12 schools and 130-percent rise on college campuses. He encourages campuses to become engaged at a "higher level than ever before."

"There needs to be a movement right now for college and university administrators, faculty, staff, superintendents, principals and school board leaders to get trained on how to respond to anti-Semitic incidents, hate crimes, hate speech and extremism on their campus or in their schools," Bernstein said, "because we're seeing this trend now, we're seeing how much it's rising, and it's much better to be proactive than reactive."

Bernstein said the key to lowering those numbers is education and getting to children very early. He said the ADL trains millions of children across the country through educational programs like "No Place for Hate" and "A World of Difference."

"Our work is not about the Jewish population and fighting anti-Semitism. It's about fighting all forms of hate, any type of bigotry toward any person," Bernstein said. "I think that's what the key is. When you get people not hating overall, that means they're not going to hate the Jews and they're also not going to hate blacks, they're not going to hate Hispanics, they're not going to hate Muslims and I think it's about the collective understanding that hate in general is wrong."

He said once children become teenagers, it becomes much harder to change bias, especially as the internet and social media encourage bold self-expression. Bernstein said the trend has significantly increased since the last presidential election and suggested it will continue to rise.

The audit reports other major areas of incidents, including bomb threats and cemetery vandalism. One Israeli-American teen alone was arrested in March 2017 and charged with making 150 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers, schools, ADL offices and other Jewish institutions.

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