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Antisemitic incidents surged in 2021 as Israel-Gaza fighting escalated, report finds

An annual audit by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, found a sharp uptick in incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism.

The fighting in May between Israeli forces and the militant group Hamas had an effect that rippled across the United States, and gave rise to a record number of antisemitic incidents of assaults, harassment and vandalism in more than 40 years. 

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, said Tuesday it counted 2,717 incidents in 2021, a 34 percent increase from 2020 and the highest number since it began tracking reports of antisemitism in 1979.

Its annual audit is based on reports from law enforcement, the media and community groups, and does not consider general anti-Israel sentiments the same as antisemitism.

"While we have always seen a rise in antisemitic activity during periods of increased hostilities between Israel and terrorist groups, the violence we witnessed in America during the conflict last May was shocking," Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL's CEO, said in a statement. "Jews were being attacked in the streets for no other reason than the fact that they were Jewish, and it seemed as if the working assumption was that if you were Jewish, you were blameworthy for what was happening half a world away."

Apparent hate crime incidents, including vandalism against synagogues and street assaults, were reported in New York, Los Angeles, suburban Chicago, South Florida and elsewhere, as large-scale protests were held in response to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Anti-Muslim vandalism was also reportedly directed toward mosques in May, with one house of worship in Brooklyn spray-painted with the phrase, "Death to Palestine." Prominent Muslim and Palestinian activists spoke out against the spate of violence as well.

But the international conflict, which lasted 11 days and ended with a bilateral cease-fire agreement, was only one of several spikes of antisemitism throughout 2021, according to the ADL. Nearly 500 of the incidents appeared tied to "actions by domestic extremists," the organization said.

The rise in reported antisemitism coincided last year with what the ADL has said was a near-record year of incidents of white supremacist propaganda, including cases of racist, antisemitic and other hateful messaging.