Speaking at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, President Donald Trump pushed for unity as he responded to a number of bomb threats made to Jewish centres over the past several weeks.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centres are horrible, and are painful – and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said.
The FBI has since started an investigation into the threats, with a total of 69 incidents at dozens of centers across 27 US states and one Canadian province.
An official for the department stated the bureau and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division were investigating “possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish community centers across the country.”
America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) February 20, 2017
Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, said Trump’s statement was “as welcome as it is overdue.”
“President Trump has been inexcusably silent as this trend of anti-Semitism has continued and arguably accelerated,” he said.
It follows a report by the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL), detailing the growth in widespread anti-Jewish posts made on Twitter between August 2015 and July 2016, with some 2.6 million tweets containing language “frequently found in anti-Semitic speech”.
Focusing on 19,253 tweets sent directly to journalists within the USA, the ADL discovered that 68 per cent of the tweets were sent by some 1,600 accounts (out of 313 million existing Twitter accounts), with the words appearing most frequently in the attackers biographies being “Trump”, “nationalist”, “conservative” and “white.”
“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election cycle is extremely troubling and unlike anything we have seen in modern politics,” ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt said.
“A half century ago, the KKK burned crosses. Today, extremists are burning up Twitter.”
A similar story in the United Kingdom
The Community Security Trust (CST) – a group that works within the UK to reduce anti-Semitism, while providing security to local Jewish communities – this week released data detailing an increase in of incidents over the past 12 months.
Reaching a record high of 1,309 incidents in 2016, this signifies a growth of 36 per cent the previous year, while higher than the previous all-time record of 1,182 incidents in 2014. Of the 1,309 occurrences, 107 were violent assaults, a growth of 29 per cent on the previous year.
Chief executive of the CST, David Delew, voiced his concern that people are feeling increasingly confident in expressing their prejudice in a more public manner.
“While Jewish life in this country remains overwhelmingly positive, this highlighted level of anti-Semitism is deeply worrying and appears to be getting worse,” he said.
“Worst of all is that, for various reasons, some people clearly feel more confident to express their anti-Semitism more publicly than they did in the past.”
While the spike in 2014 was largely attributed to the war in Gaza, no direct trigger has been identified for the rise in 2016, with a series of factors creating “an atmosphere in which more anti-Semitic incidents are occurring.”
Terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe, allegations of anti-Semitism within the UK Labour Party, as well as an increase in xenophobia after the Brexit vote were all listed as contributing causes to the increase.
The majority of incidents occurred within Greater London and Greater Manchester, where the majority of the UK’s Jewish population live, with London witnessing a 65 per cent increase in the past year.
Anti-Semitism in Australia
Locally there has also been an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry noting a 10 per cent overall rise between October 2015 and September 2016, with physical assaults escalating by 50 per cent.
Julie Nathan, who compiled the report, acts as the Research Officer for the Executive Council and told SBS News many incidents of anti-Semitism go unreported.
“Anti-Semitic incidents increased by 10 per cent from 2015 to 2016 in Australia. However, it must be noted that many anti-Semitic incidents are not reported to official Jewish bodies,” she said.
“The increase appears to have been across the board from all the different sources of anti-Semitism – i.e. the left and right of politics, and religious based anti-Semitism. It is therefore not possible to attribute any increase to one particular source.
“It would not be surprising to see an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during 2017 in Australia due to a variety of political factors, including increasing activity by the far-right and the far-left.
“However, the incidents of any anti-Semitism or other forms of racism engendered by such activity can be minimised by condemnations of racism by political and other leaders, by anti-vilification laws, by media opposition to racism, and other means.”