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The Tree of Life Massacre Was Not an Isolated Act of Anti-Semitism

The attack comes amid an increase of anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric in America

The Star of David memorials are lined with flowers at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh

Memorials at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, two days after 11 people were killed by gunman Robert Bowers.

JARED WICKERHAM/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — where 11 people were killed during Saturday morning services last week by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic epithets — was not an isolated incident. Yes, it was part of this country’s mass shooting epidemic, but it was also part of a pattern of rising anti-Semitism in America.

According to the latest yearly audit by the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to tracking anti-Semitism in the United States, anti-Semitic incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault — everything from schoolyard bullying to violent crime — increased by 57 percent in 2017. It was the second-highest increase since the ADL started keeping track in 1979. The jump was due in part to a significant increase in incidents at schools and on college campuses, which the ADL says nearly doubled for the second year in a row. Incidents at Jewish institutions (including Jewish schools, community centers, museums and synagogues) also doubled, with 342 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, up from 170 incidents recorded in 2016.

With virulent rhetoric becoming increasingly common, and the president of the United States coming out and declaring himself a nationalist, it will not be a surprise if the ADL’s next audit finds another increase for 2018. In the meantime, a new study released this month by the Institute for the Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab, in conjunction with the ADL, examined anti-Semitic rhetoric and misinformation about Jews online specifically. They found that the online public sphere “has become progressively unhospitable for Jewish Americans.”

“Prior to the election of President Donald Trump, anti-Semitic harassment and attacks were rare and unexpected, even for Jewish Americans who were prominently situated in the public eye. Following his election, anti-Semitism has become normalized and harassment is a daily occurrence,” the study concludes. “The platforms [Facebook and Twitter] are key facilitators of this anti-Semitic harassment.”

Researchers analyzed more than 7.5 million tweets and interviewed Jews in politics and journalism to track anti-Semitic harassment and disinformation about Jewish Americans on social media. They found a “marked rise in the number of online attacks” against the Jewish community, with anti-Semitism more prevalent on Twitter than Facebook, and bots playing a major role in spreading hateful rhetoric and harassment. Nearly 30 percent of the accounts used to spread anti-Semitism online were determined to be likely bots, according to researchers. And about 80 percent of the accounts, human and bot, were associated with the right wing of the political spectrum, with many also using the #MAGA hashtag.

References to George Soros, the Jewish billionaire whose name has been used as right-wing shorthand for alleged Jewish conspiracies that control the media and politics, were by far the most common talking points found. Soros was one of the recipients of suspicious packages sent by Cesar Sayoc, dubbed the “MAGAbomber,” who targeted several high-profile critics of Donald Trump.

The bomber and the shooter in Pittsburgh are two examples of the real-life consequences of anti-Semitic rhetoric becoming more commonplace and accepted, an escalation that logically follows the increases in vandalism, harassment, assault, and anti-Semitic misinformation noted by the ADL.

With black men being shot by police, immigrants and asylum seekers being deported and separated from their children, and trans women murdered at alarming rates, Jewish people have not been front and center in discussions about discrimination and hate crimes in America. But this past week has made it clear — if the ADL’s statistics didn’t already — that the threat of anti-Semitism in this country is very real, and on the rise.

In This Article: Anti-Semitism, Crime

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