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Watchdog groups monitoring incidents of antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias in the U.S. have recorded steep spikes in the number of incidents recorded in the month following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing war, as compared to the same period of time last year.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said that during the same period it recorded 1,283 reports of bias, an increase of 216% over the same span of time in 2022. The civil rights organization called that jump “unprecedented.”
Hamas killed more than 1,200 civilians, including babies and the elderly, with some burned and tortured in their homes. Israeli reprisals have killed more than 11,000 people in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, turning into what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called “a graveyard for children.”
Threats and misinformation have also proliferated online, with antisemitic content on X, formerly known as Twitter, spiking 919% in the week following Oct. 7, as compared to the week before, according to the ADL; earlier this week, X owner Elon Musk was widely criticized for endorsing an antisemitic post. Islamophobic posts on X quadrupled in frequency in the days after the attack.
Passions stoked online have spilled into real life, with college campuses, the halls of Congress and city streets becoming the sites of loud and sometimes physical confrontations.
Last month, Wadea al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy, was fatally stabbed in his apartment in the Chicago suburbs. Police arrested Joseph Czuba, a landlord, who also allegedly seriously wounded the boy’s mother. Czuba has been charged with murder.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles resident Paul Kessler died after being hit on the head with a megaphone at a pro-Palestinian rally, to which he had shown up with an Israeli flag. On Thursday, Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, a local professor who had posted pro-Hamas content online, was arrested and is expected to face involuntary manslaughter charges in Kessler’s death.
Authorities fear that more violence could be on the way. “The number of tips and threats that are being reported to us have gone up significantly since October 7,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told a House committee on Wednesday.
What the numbers say
The worrying rise of religious intolerance had been apparent even before the latest clash in the Middle East.
According to the ADL, antisemitism started to rise dramatically in 2015, around the time that Donald Trump announced he was running for president. That rise would continue through his time in the Oval Office, fueled in good part by an emboldened white supremacist movement. Trump also openly stoked anti-Muslim sentiment, proposing a ban on Muslims entering the United States early in his presidential campaign — and enacting a version of that policy early in his presidential term.
More broadly, Trump has played on and amplified whites’ fears about being “replaced” by non-white Americans, a conspiracy theory that has fueled right-wing extremist violence.
“Antisemitism and extremism in America are at historic highs,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat of New York, told Yahoo News almost exactly a year before Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel, slaughtering civilians in their homes and at an outdoor rave.
Since then, elected officials and law enforcement authorities have sought to strike the difficult balance between allowing people to express their First Amendment rights by demonstrating while also condemning bigotry and making sure that strong opinions, however loudly expressed, don’t encourage or lead to violence.
But the sheer number of incidents in recent weeks has led to comparisons with the Nazi persecution of Jews in the years leading up to World War II:
In Arizona, 50-year-old Jeffrey Mindock was arrested for threatening to “execute” Jews, while 20-year-old Sohaib Abuayyash, a Jordanian national, was arrested in Houston on firearms charges because, according to authorities, he was “plotting to attack a Jewish gathering.”
Colleges have seen especially intense clashes, as administrators have struggled to balance the need to protect students’ safety while honoring their First Amendment rights. Cornell student Patrick Dai was arrested for making online calls to “shoot up” campus spaces where Jews gather; Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and other prominent universities have seen pro-Palestinian rallies lapse into violence, harassment and intimidation.
“Parents don’t recognize the universities that they’re sending their kids to,” says Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a Harvard graduate who has criticized how the university has handled the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack. He told Yahoo News that, in conversations throughout his Boston-area district, pro-Palestinian campus protests are his constituents’ “biggest source of fear and anxiety.”
Chicago’s chapter of Black Lives Matter appeared to endorse the slaughter of nearly 300 attendees at a desert rave in southern Israel before deleting the widely criticized social media post.
In San Francisco, a Jewish-owned ice cream shop was vandalized with pro-Palestinian graffiti.
The ADL found that 70% percent of American Jews believe antisemitism to be “a serious and growing problem” in the United States, one that seems to unite both the far left and the far right.
“When conflict arises in the Middle East, particularly when Israel exercises its right to self-defense, antisemitic incidents increase here in the U.S. and around the world,” ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt said.
Muslim leaders have expressed similar concerns. “The unpredictability of the time, place, and circumstances of Islamophobic incidents,” Stanford psychiatrist Rania Awaad wrote in a recent essay for Time, “puts many Muslims in a nearly continuous state of hypervigilance.”
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What it means
Experts in antisemitism say that it is both an immediate concern and a society-wide alarm. “Antisemitism is a warning system,” said Bari Weiss, a Jewish journalist who wrote a book about the legacy of antisemitism, in a speech on Monday. “It’s a sign that the society itself is breaking down, that it is dying. It is a symptom of a much deeper crisis.”
The White House has promised to fight both antisemitism and Islamophobia, and the Department of Education has opened investigations into colleges where examples of bigotry have recently taken place.
For scholars of antisemitism, the challenge is unprecedented. “I never imagined antisemitism would get this bad. Something about this is different from anything I have ever personally seen,” Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department special envoy to combat antisemitism and a renowned Holocaust expert, told the New York Times earlier this week.
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A warning from the FBI
FBI Director Wray warned Congress on Oct. 31 that antisemitism was reaching “historic levels,” pointing out that while Jews represent only 2.4% of the American population, they are the target of 60% of violent threats.
He reprised that warning on Wednesday, adding that incidents of Islamophobia had also increased as individuals attracted to violence have praised Hamas’s horrific attack on Israeli civilians. “We have seen violent extremists across ideologies seeking to target Jewish and Muslim people and institutions through physical assaults, bomb threats, and online calls for mass casualty attacks,” Wray said in prepared testimony.
He added that his biggest concern was about unaffiliated terrorists “inspired by — or reacting to — the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, as they pose the most likely threat to Americans, especially Jewish, Muslim, and Arab-American communities in the United States.”
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The toll of hate
In recent years, mental health professionals have started to understand the profound toll racism has taken on Black Americans and other populations that have faced intergenerational discrimination.
Antisemitism, sometimes known as “the oldest hatred,” has had a similar effect, especially as graphic images of the Oct. 7 attacks have proliferated online — alongside justifications for the attacks or even celebrations of Hamas.
“We are all terrified, losing sleep, having difficulty focusing and are shaken as a community,” Los Angeles psychologist Sari Kosdon recently told Yahoo Life. “It is hard to wrap your head around violence perpetuated in a way that is reminiscent of the Holocaust.”
Experts in Islamophobia say much the same thing, pointing out that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims have nothing to do with Hamas or similar extremist organizations. “When the average person is inundated with news cycles about the instability in the Middle East without proper context or knowledge of the lived experiences of Muslims,” Stanford’s Awaad wrote in Time, “they are being conditioned to distrust the Muslim family living next door.”
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Cover Thumbnail Photo: Elizabeth Franz/Reuters