Metro

Anti-Semitic incidents are soaring, group says

April 7, 2016 Newton Mayor Setti Warren takes a question from Charles Jacobs a Newton resident at a community discussion on making sure Newton is a welcoming place for all, in response to recent incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti in the schools and a taunting incident during a high school basketball game. Photo by Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
Newton Mayor Setti Warren responded to a question from Charles Jacobs at a community discussion at a community meeting on April 7.

Reports of anti-Semitic incidents are soaring this year across New England, an increase fueled by vandalism, harassment, and other acts at schools and colleges, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League.

According to the ADL, there have already been 56 anti-Semitic acts in the region this year, nearly as many as for all of 2015, when 61 were reported.

The data alarmed Jewish clergy and academics, who said the incidents suggest a rising level of intolerance that may feed on the rhetoric from the contentious political season.

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“Clearly, people are acting out on some long-held stereotypes and hatred toward Jews, and it’s designed to send a message of intimidation,” said Robert Trestan, director of the New England Regional Office of the ADL. “We’re increasingly living in an environment where incivility is becoming common and accepted practice.”

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Massachusetts recorded the vast majority of the New England incidents this year, with 47 events. Schools have been hardest hit in the state, with incidents reported at 23 public and private schools and college campuses.

In Newton, hateful graffiti and a swastika were scrawled on school grounds earlier this year. At a basketball game in March, Catholic Memorial High School fans taunted Newton students with chants of “You killed Jesus.”

North of Boston, swastikas were recently painted at a Swampscott school, on Georgetown’s football field, and on a basketball court in Marblehead. Elsewhere, college students have seen swastikas at Brandeis University, and anti-Semitic fliers have been sent to students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Northeastern University.

In April, former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni was berated at Harvard and called “smelly” by a student at a lecture. In May, an 18-year-old Winthrop man broke into the town’s high school and drew swastikas in a classroom, according to published reports.

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Also last month, a large dollar sign and the words “Merry Christmas” were painted on a synagogue in Beverly, and a swastika was discovered at a Andover synagogue.

Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna said he believes a combination of social media, anti-Israel sentiment, and rhetoric from politicians has led to a sense of public acceptance of some anti-Semitism.

“There is a sense today that this kind of hatred is more acceptable and that the public square has become coarser than it had been in the past, and indeed, one senses that even in presidential politics that there is often a relationship,” Sarna said.

“We look to a candidate as role models. When they employ very coarse speech, and people take notice, it’s not a surprise that other folks do the same thing.’’

Amid the rise in incidents, clergy have strongly spoken out against hateful acts.

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Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, who leads Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore, helped organize an interfaith solidarity event near the Swampscott Town Hall and also held a healing service last May after raw pork was found at the base of a Holocaust memorial at a Lynn Jewish cemetery.

Lipsker said the leadership in the Jewish community ultimately bears the responsibility to set a tough tone.

“Anything less sends a message that we are somehow guilty of something just by virtue of our Jewish identity,” he said Wednesday. “This tacit green light might be a serious contributing factor to this rising phenomenon.

“Whether the anti-Jewish bigotry comes in the form of ignorance or sheer hatred masquerading as human rights on college campuses, they must both be negated with the same steadfast vociferousness,” Lipsker added.

Trestan, the ADL director, said the organization has implemented antibias educational programs in more than 60 schools in New England and plans to add more in the fall.

Among the schools scheduled to take part are all four middle schools in Newton. At Newton’s F.A. Day Middle School, three anti-Semitic incidents were reported this academic year, including graffiti reading “Burn the Jews” scrawled in a boy’s bathroom.

The incidents prompted Newton officials to hold a public meeting, which in itself became a divisive event.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren said Wednesday that he was not surprised to hear about the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.

“It’s clear in Newton that the incidents uncovered the fact that we have a lot of work to do,” Warren said. “We can’t rest on our reputation of being a welcoming community, we have to work at it.”

Warren has hired a civil rights educator to clarify guidelines that identify hate crimes in schools and has met with community leaders who have agreed to establish antibias programs that would push back against all forms of prejudice and racism.

Harvard Law School emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz said it was hard to measure the current state of anti-Semitism in statistics since many incidents go unreported.

He said he receives around 50 anti-Semitic e-mails, letters, and phone calls each year but does not report them to law enforcement.

Still, he said, the current uptick reflects a culture where hate is becoming more acceptable.

“I think the moratorium on anti-Semitism that began after the Holocaust is beginning to end. And I think that we’re seeing more and more acceptance of it, of anti-Semitic tropes,” he said.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who has yet to see the full data, called hate crimes an “egregious” type of an attack.

“Even a single incident of bias and hate is one too many. Discrimination is unacceptable in any form, and we will continue to work to foster an environment of inclusion and respect in all communities across our state,” Healey said in a statement.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg
@globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.