MILWAUKEE – A 55 percent annual increase in antisemitic incidents, among other disturbing trends, are part of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s 2019 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.
The just-released statewide audit found a marked increase in hate group activity. For antisemitism overall, the audit reports a 55 percent increase in incidents from 2018 to 2019 and a 329 percent increase since 2015, according to the JCRC, which is an arm of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
“We are living in a time of increased boldness, brazen expressions of hate,” said JCRC chair Ann Jacobs. “We do not have reason to believe that more people feel animosity toward Jews than before, but we know that more people are acting on their bigoted ideology. That should be a communal call to action to end the many signals in our society that encourage people to express bigotry and animosity.”
There have been significant increases in a few key categories in just one year. Harassment, threats, and assault increased by 150 percent, from 16 to 40 incidents. Hate group activity has seen a 900 percent increase. Middle school activity is up 250 percent.
In response, the JCRC has organized or co-organized a series of events, including a March 4, 2020 (this is a new date) audit release program; a March 11, 2020 community conversation; and a March 30 Edie Adelman Political Awareness Lecture with Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger.
“We recognize that Milwaukee Jewish Federation has a central role to play in securing our community. In addition to past efforts, we are engaged in a $2 million Federation Campaign for Security,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “At the same time, we understand there is a need for all of us to connect and process these audit results, and we are convening the community to talk about this.”
The JCRC works on the audit year-round and all incidents have been corroborated, according to Elana Kahn, director of the JCRC. This year’s audit includes 73 reported incidents.
There are bright spots in the report. The number of incidents reported in high schools has been cut in half from the prior year, from six to three. Incidence of vandalism decreased from 16 to 13.
But the audit’s “Harassment, Threats, Assault” category has gone from zero incidents in 2015 to 40 in 2019. There’s no denying that’s a severe trendline. “This trend points to a shift in how people express their antisemitic sentiments. They are bolder, more open, more personal, and more threatening,” reads the 2019 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents report.
There were 10 reported hate group incidents in 2019. This trend points to increased boldness and visibility of such groups, according to the report. Examples include:
• Distribution of flyers from the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan with racist and antisemitic language, including, “When the Blacks and Jews are the majority they will NOT stand for white quality like they have tricked us into doing for them!”
• A man walked around a Milwaukee festival with a Stahlhelm flag, which is a variation of the Imperial flag used by Stahlhelm Bund der Frontsoldaten, an organization whose ideology was adopted by German neo-Nazi and far-right activists after World War II.
• Graffiti on a bike trail of the Othala rune and “Ruhm und Ehre,” which references a song, “Honor and glory for the Waffen SS” and the “Blood and Honor” Nazi slogan.
There has also been a 94 percent increase in references to the Holocaust, Nazi, and Hitler, according to the audit.
• College students posted in their off campus housing a sign: “No…Liberals, Jews, Muslims, Queers or Hmongs,” and a large flag with a swastika on it. Another incident at another university included a Star of David with a swastika inside it drawn on a board in university housing.
• Middle school students said to a Jewish eighth-grader: “Do you prefer gas or bullets?” “You should go die in a gas chamber.” “All Heil Hitler.” “Bring back Hitler so he can kill all the Jews.”
Incidents among middle school students increased 250 percent, from two to seven incidents. Five of those incidents were harassment involving references to Holocaust, Nazi, or Hitler.
Other incidents included: A Jewish community member was harassed in his workplace after being told he looks Jewish and that the Jews control the diamonds and the banks. A local Jewish business owner received an email linking to an article about Zionists as a Satanic cult that control everything and use innocent Jews as a cover for their schemes. And a hired contractor came to an elderly Jewish woman’s house, and after seeing Judaic objects, ranted that he hated all Jews and that Jews have destroyed the world through their greed.
Are you aware of incidents? Let the JCRC know at MilwaukeeJewish.org/ReportAntisemitism or 414-390-5781.
“The call to action for our Jewish community should be to speak out whenever we hear bigotry; to form alliances with neighbors and particularly other marginalized groups; to advocate for other targeted groups with the understanding that there is enough compassion for multiple groups; to lift up voices of leadership that reflect the values that we embrace,” Kahn said.
“I would add that antisemitism should not define who we are. We should seek ways to lean into our Judaism and lean toward the Jewish people, Jewish histories, Jewish stories, Jewish values, as a positive charge and identity.”
Rosenzweig said: “We must not let antisemitism or our response to it define us. We have to celebrate the many areas of our community that are thriving. We must work together to unite, strengthen and support the Milwaukee Jewish Community.”
Antisemitism events planned for March
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation has slated three events on antisemitism for March.
• Audit release. Wednesday, March 4 (new date). The JCRC will release its annual audit of antisemitism. With antisemitism on the rise, the release is expected to draw media attention.
• Community conversation. Wednesday, March 11. This will be an open, facilitated discussion about antisemitism, its effects, and our collaborative responses. Co-sponsored by Jewish Family Services.
• Confronting antisemitism. Monday, March 30. Edie Adelman Political Awareness Lecture with Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger on “How to Transform Anger into Compassion and Fear into Action.” In partnership with Women’s Philanthropy.
All events are open to the community and free, 7 p.m. at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay. Visit MilwaukeeJewish.org/Antisemitism for more information.