Last March, Scottsdale residents found anti-Semitic fliers in their neighborhood. In July, a Jewish couple in Phoenix returned from vacation to discover their mailbox had been spray-painted with the word “Jew” and a swastika. In February, a Paradise Valley elementary school was defaced with swastikas.
If last year it seemed like anti-Semitic hatred in Arizona festered and grew, it wasn't just your imagination.
According to a new report, anti-Semitic incidents surged here, per the Anti-Defamation League’s annual chronicle of hate. The organization attributed the increase to the emboldened racists in our midst and a climate ripe for prejudice and division.
The ADL's report found that last year in Arizona there were 19 acts of anti-Semitic harassment, six vandalism incidents, and one assault. The number of incidents more than doubled between last year and the previous year — there were 10 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, according to the ADL, and just four in 2015.
As a percentage increase, the spike in Arizona between 2016 and 2017 was among the largest in the nation. The incidents were compiled from reports to the Arizona ADL chapter from victims, the media, and law enforcement. Nationwide, anti-Semitic incidents jumped by 57 percent, the largest single-year increase on record.
Carlos Galindo-Elvira, the director of Arizona’s ADL chapter, said that last year’s increase “represents a climate of growing incivility and the efforts of hate groups that have emboldened themselves.”
For the first time in two years, an anti-Semitic assault took place in Arizona, according to the report. Galindo-Elvira said that the physical altercation took place at a Phoenix middle school and was accompanied by anti-Semitic verbal harassment.
Schools were the focus of a ton of anti-Semitic hatred, apparently. At least eight of the anti-Semitic incidents in Arizona last year took place at schools, including swastika graffiti, slurs, and horrible acts of bullying. Among the incidents was the harassment of a Jewish student in Phoenix for wearing a Star of David necklace and a group of students at a Paradise Valley school who performed the Nazi salute.
Galindo-Elvira said, “It’s disturbing that we saw that type of increase in incidents at schools, and what it demonstrates is that consistent with other anti-Semitic incidents, it’s happening at all ages.”
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He added that students targeted by anti-Semitic bullying or graffiti aren't necessarily afraid to return to school as a result — mostly, they just want the harassment to end. “They want to be on a school campus that’s inclusive and respectful, and they want it to be addressed," Galindo-Elvira said.
While the spike is alarming on its own, even more troubling is that the slice of hate incidents reported to the ADL probably represents just a fraction of the bigotry in the U.S.
Even the best option for tracking hate — the FBI's annual report of hate crimes reported by law enforcement — is tremendously flawed. Case in point: Last year, lots of Arizona agencies didn't even send their numbers to the FBI. Some Arizona law enforcement offices argued that hate and bias attacks simply weren't an issue in their jurisdiction.
The ADL’s audit doesn’t attempt to track anti-Semitic vitriol online, nor does it keep a tally of general expressions of white supremacist hatred. For many of the anti-Semitic incidents, if a victim doesn't notify their school, law enforcement, or an organization like the ADL, the act will go unnoticed.