Sharp increases in anti-Semitic incidents of harassment, threats and assaults were documented in 2017 in the greater Milwaukee area.
The report from the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation also documents incidents across the state.
“We’re seeing a shift,” Ann Jacobs, JCRC chair, said in a statement issued with the audit.
Jacobs said until 2016, the vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents reported to the council involved verbal or written expression.
The report still contains details of such incidents — including a proliferation of hate speech on social media — but “for the last two years, we’re seeing bold, direct and personal acts. The difference is stark and worrisome,” Jacobs said.
Also worrisome: The ages of some of the harassers and attackers. Almost a third of the incidents occurred in schools or on campuses.
Some numbers contained in the report:
• There was a 30 percent increase in incidents overall.
• But there was a 150 percent increase in incidents categorized as harassment, threats or assault.
In one incident, 20 new vehicles at an auto dealership were vandalized, with swastikas scratched into the paint.
In others, swastikas and “We will rise again!” were painted on a bridge, a car was set on fire and swastikas with “go back to your own country” were painted on a garage.
The report describes incidents of Nazi flags flying outside a home, college students seeking to form an anti-Semitic group and university students scheduling a vote on a controversial resolution related to Israel for Passover.
Jewish adults received anonymous threats at work — in letters, voicemails and verbal confrontations, and children were harassed by classmates, scared by bomb threats and threatened on the streets by people shouting “dirty Jews” and “We hate Jews. Let’s kill them.”
Cynthia Herber chairs the JCRC’s Anti-Semitism and Constitutional Law Task Force. In her statement on the audit, she said, “This year’s findings shine a light on the unmasking of hate in our community. We see that people feel emboldened and are acting on it.”
In another incident of vandalism, “Trump Rules” was spray-painted along with swastikas and “antifa sucks” and at least two incidents were spiked with anti-immigrant venom.
To be included in the audit, an incident is corroborated and reviewed, then reviewed again by the task force and JCRC board before consideration by the JCRC Community Council. The process involves collaboration with schools, law enforcement and other agencies.
Herber said the report for the Milwaukee area “helps us understand where we need to focus our work.”
In June, when JCRC holds its annual meeting, the focus will turn to addressing the proliferation of hate speech on social media.
It “affects us all, including the companies that provide social media platforms, legislators who set guidelines and all of us who use these media,” said Elana Kahn, JCRC director.
Days after the Milwaukee JCRC released its 2017 audit, the national Anti-Defamation League reported the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased nearly 60 percent from 2016 to 2017. The year-to-year increase was the largest on record and the second highest number reported since the ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.
The rise was in part due to a significant increase in incidents in schools and on college campuses, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.
There were 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents reported across the United States in 2017, including physical assaults, vandalism and attacks on Jewish institutions.
The ADA said every part of the country was affected, with at least one incident reported in all 50 states for the first time in at least a decade.
“A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community — from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and children harassing children at school,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director. “These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society. In reflecting on this time and understanding it better with this new data, we feel even more committed to our century-old mission to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”