Massachusetts saw an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents in 2022, a surge that outpaced increases in both New England and the United States, placing the state among the top six for antisemitic activity in the country, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League.
A total of 152 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism were recorded in Massachusetts last year, a 41 percent increase from 2021, when there were 108, the ADL found. There were 204 incidents in New England, the highest number in the region since the ADL began tracking more than 40 years ago.
Among the incidents the ADL referenced were a neo-Nazi group hanging antisemitic and racist banners over highways in Saugus and Danvers in September and paper swastikas left on a Jewish family’s front lawn in Stoneham in November.
Seventy-one cities and towns in Massachusetts saw at least one antisemitic event in 2022, up from 54 in 2021. There were 82 instances of vandalism, a 41 percent increase over 2021, and 66 instances of harassment, a 38 percent increase. The number of assaults doubled to four, from two in 2021.
The report also cited the “Mapping Project,” an antisemitic website that claims to identify the locations of Jewish institutions in the state and their purported ties to one another. The site highlighted alleged connections among the institutions in order to “dismantle them,” its anonymous creators wrote.
The rise in antisemitic activity in Massachusetts mirrors a trend seen nationally. Nationally, 3,697 antisemitic incidents were recorded, a 36 percent increase and the highest number since the ADL tracking began in 1979.
Only New York (580 incidents), California (518 incidents), New Jersey (408 incidents), Florida (269 incidents), and Texas (211 incidents) reported more antisemitic activity than Massachusetts last year, according to the report.
Peggy Shukur, interim regional director for the ADL’s New England branch, said one notable finding is the number of incidents that occurred at private homes in New England, which doubled from 2020.
“There’s something particularly intimidating and fearful and unwelcoming when antisemitism crosses your threshold,” Shukur said.
Shukur pointed to an antisemitic slur that was carved into a car at a home in Stow in November and racist and antisemitic graffiti found in multiple locations, including a dormitory at Curry College in Milton in February. The college in June said it fired an employee it believed was responsible for the graffiti, following an investigation.
A rise in organized white supremacist propaganda activity could be contributing to the surge, Shukur said. An ADL report released earlier in March found an increase in the number of gatherings and actions taken by white supremacists in New England. Thursday’s report found that white supremacist groups were responsible for 852 antisemitic propaganda distribution incidents across the United States in 2022, twice the number in the previous year.
Extremist groups “pick Massachusetts sometimes because of the reputation of Massachusetts as being a liberal place or being an educated place or a place that has a lot of history. And so sometimes Massachusetts is just a really easy target,” Shukur said.
One development that the ADL said “remained at concerning levels” is incidents of antisemitism that are tied to opposition to Israel or Zionism, with 241 in the United States in 2020.
Ilana Horwitz, an assistant professor of Jewish studies and sociology at Tulane University, said some of those could be attributed to a “new form of antisemitism from the left” on Israeli policies.
“From the right, the kind of antisemitism that we see is from white nationalists. There is an increase in general white Christian nationalism going on,” Horwitz said. “The kind of antisemitism we see on the left is really different. It’s much more of the sort of anti-Israel sentiment and the assumption that all Jews support Israel.”
Horwitz said it is also unlikely that the overall increase in incidents reflects an improvement in the ability of people to report such incidents. Aryeh Tuchman, a senior associate director at the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the rise is not a result of new data sources.
Other factors potentially driving a national surge in antisemitism include the legitimization of antisemitic rhetoric and the ease with which people who hold those views can share them and connect with others through the Internet, said Jonathan Sarna, a historian and professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
Sarna noted that Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who shared antisemitic comments and conspiracy theories online in 2022, has more followers on social media than there are Jewish people in the world. The ADL said in the report that Ye was directly referenced in 59 antisemitic incidents in the country in 2022.
The report makes clear, Sarna added, that antisemitic attitudes and threats, including to college campuses and synagogues, are not a thing of the past.
“The idea that universities are no longer safe spaces would have been unthinkable 30 years ago, but today, anyone who applies will think about that,” Sarna said. “Every synagogue gets nervous, and quite a number of synagogues — some in New England and some beyond — have had incidents, whether it is a verbal threat or swastikas or something worse.”
There were 15 antisemitic incidents on college campuses in New England in 2022, the report found, unchanged from 2021. Nationwide, however, college campuses saw a 41 percent increase in such activity over the same period, with 219 reported at more than 130 universities.
And in K-12 schools, there was also an increase in antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts — 53 in 2022, a 51 percent increase from the previous year. The report found there were 494 incidents across the United States, an increase of 49 percent.
That rise is particularly concerning, said Ralph Melnick, a senior lecturer in Judaic studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“That’s a rather troubling aspect of all this,” Melnick said. “The hope is this will diminish over time, and if it’s increasing in schoolchildren, then that’s a real problem.”