Politics & Policy

Hate Crimes and the Threat to American Jewry

A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., October 31, 2018. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
It’s not as simple as blaming Trump.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shootings, the Anti-Defamation League reported a 57 percent spike in anti-Semitic acts between 2016 and 2017. Shortly thereafter, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Many commentators linked this uptick to President Trump’s rhetoric. When commenting on the ADL report, Julie Ioffe claimed that Trump “has radicalized so many more people than ISIS ever did.”

A closer look at the statistics, however, indicates that linking anti-Semitic acts to Trump’s rhetoric is problematic and much too one-sided. The ADL report found an almost doubling of campus incidents of bullying and harassment, for example, which are most likely associated with left-wing anti-Zionist forces. And while its intimidation measure doubled, this was mainly because it includes a spree of bomb threats made by a disturbed Israeli youth. In addition, the ADL relies on reports it receives from a variety of institutions, and at least a portion of the increase in anti-Semitic acts reflected “more people . . . reporting incidents than ever before.”

Similarly, the FBI relies on reporting from law-enforcement agencies, and an additional 1,000 agencies reported for the first time in 2017. In addition, the increase was driven entirely by a substantial rise in vandalism of property, as there was a drop in assaults and incidents of intimidation. And as others have pointed out, all three categories were lower in 2017 than they had been a decade earlier.

Further, Trump has consistently voiced animus towards Muslims, so if his rhetoric were responsible for hate crimes, Muslim victimization should have increased. There was, however, an 18 percent decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes, reflecting reductions in all three categories. By contrast, during the Obama years, anti-Muslim hate crimes more than tripled.

Latinos were another group that was subject to Trump’s animus, and the hate crimes they experienced rose by 17 percent. However, anti-Latino assaults — the most serious category — were virtually unchanged, as the overall increase reflected primarily increases in incidents of intimidation and property vandalism.

It is also worth looking at the victimization rates, as opposed to the trends, especially for assault. There were only four hate-crime assaults per million Latinos in the U.S. Among the African-American and Jewish populations the rate is more than four times higher, while among Muslims the rate is almost eight times higher.

Returning to the Jewish community, it is quite understandable that the Pittsburgh massacre increased concerns for safety. A survey indicated that 72 percent of Jewish respondents linked the Pittsburg massacre to President Trump’s rhetoric, even though the killer thought the president too friendly and supportive of Jews. It would be more accurate to point to the rise of anger across the board. Yes, Trump’s rhetoric is partly at fault. However, many leftist activists and some Democratic-party leaders have also demonized groups and condoned illiberal behaviors.

The persistent leftist stress on white supremacy has most likely intensified the anger felt by many black Americans. It led to a few violent actions against police personnel, and it may have made some more willing to engage in hate crimes. In virtually all categories, black Americans are disproportionally represented among known hate-crime perpetrators. For every five white Americans there is only one black American — yet for every five white perpetrators of anti-Latino hate crimes there are two black perpetrators, and for every five white perpetrators of hate crimes against gays and lesbians there are four black perpetrators. Just as Trump’s rhetoric may have led some angry whites to commit hate crimes, so too the rhetoric of many in the social-justice movement may have led some angry blacks to do so.

The deeper source of these antisocial actions is the pervasiveness of victimization ideologies, which began with leftist identity politics and have now been embraced by many unsuccessful whites. Now everyone is a victim and someone else is totally responsible for their plight. Without confronting the damaging impact of victimization ideology, societies will continue to be vulnerable to misguided behaviors of angry people who need little encouragement to commit violent crimes.

Certainly Trump’s rhetoric may have some responsibility for the increase in hate crimes, including those against Jews. However, the major danger in the U.S. to Jewish interests is the leftist politics that increasingly infects college campuses and the Democratic party.

On campuses, anti-Israel groups create a hostile environment for Jewish students who are not considered sufficiently anti-Zionist. Based on the notion of intersectionality, they have successfully banned these students, along with pro-life feminists, from participating in campus progressive coalitions. In Congress, a number of recently elected House members are hostile to Israel, and others ally themselves with the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. Most troubling, these views are held by new congressional members who are seen as future party leaders.

These shifts must be the focus of our attention, and we should not be diverted by spikes in vandalism.

Robert Cherry — Robert Cherry is a professor of economics at Brooklyn College.

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