Anti-Semitic incidents spike in Mass. in 2016

  • Anti-Semitic graffiti appeared on Mount Tom following the presidential election in 2016. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/24/2017 10:21:18 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Anti-Semitic vandalism, harassment and assaults surged in Massachusetts last year as the state saw the fifth-highest number of such incidents in the country, a new report finds.

Information released Monday by the Anti-Defamation League records 125 anti-Semitic incidents statewide in 2016, compared with 50 in 2015. Nationwide, the report found 1,266 incidents in 2016, a 34 percent spike from the previous year.

Of those 1,266 incidents, nearly 30 percent occurred in November and December alone. Those numbers mirror a nationwide uptick in bias-related harassment and intimidation immediately following the election of Donald Trump, according to numbers from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“I think it’s consistent with what we’re seeing nationally,” said Robert Trestan, the executive director of the ADL’s New England office.

Trestan mentioned similar attacks targeting Muslims, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community. “There are many groups in this country right now that are feeling under attack.”

The ADL, a nonprofit Jewish civil rights organization, compiles its data from reports by victims, law enforcement, community leaders and schools. This year’s increase is the largest in a decade, according to Trestan.

“We’re living in a time of a heightened political atmosphere, which is a contributing factor, as is an increase in hate and inappropriate analogies in mainstream media,” Trestan said.

In the Pioneer Valley, several recent incidents have made headlines: Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti appeared on Mount Tom after the presidential election; in December, reports of anti-Semitic incidents at Amherst Regional Middle School prompted assemblies and a weeklong educational curriculum; a bomb threat was made against Springfield Jewish Community Center in March; and at Easthampton High School, parents have recently complained about anti-Semitic signs, students teasing a peer about deportation and someone vandalizing posters that promote diversity.

Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer, a Jewish adviser and Hillel director at Amherst College, said he hasn’t seen that same trend play out on campus, but found it particularly troubling that the 125 anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts accounted for nearly 10 percent of all incidents the ADL reported nationwide.

“It’s something that we’re watching and concerned about,” he said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also expressed unease about the state’s uptick, adding that it comes after a wave of threats to Jewish Community Centers nationwide.

“These incidents are hurtful, cause significant harm to individuals and families, and threaten the fabric of our communities,” Healey said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the ADL and other partners to root out bias and hate and foster respect and inclusion within our communities.”

So far in 2017, Massachusetts has seen nine incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism and 29 incidents of harassment, according to the ADL. Just this past weekend, young teenagers drew a swastika on the bandstand on the Salem town common, according to police.

Mayor Kim Driscoll noted that “Salem” is derived from “shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.




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