ADL Audit Finds Antisemitic Incidents in United States Reached All-Time High in 2021
Incidents reported in all 50 states, including a dramatic spike during Hamas-Israel conflict; Attacks against synagogues and JCCs increased 61 percent
New York, NY, April 26, 2022 … Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to ADL (the Anti-Defamation League). This represents the highest number of incidents on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979 – an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year.
ADL’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, issued today, found that antisemitic incidents reached a high watermark across virtually every category. Attacks against Jewish institutions, including Jewish community centers (JCCs) and synagogues, were up by 61 percent, incidents at K-12 schools increased 106 percent, and incidents on college campuses rose 21 percent.
Assaults – considered the most serious incident type because it involves person-on-person physical violence triggered by antisemitic animus – increased 167 percent, jumping to a total of 88 reports in 2021 from 33 in 2020. Incidents of harassment were up 43 percent, and acts of antisemitic vandalism rose 14 percent.
A substantial surge was reported during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas. There was a staggering 148 percent increase in reports of antisemitic incidents that month when compared in May 2020, as tensions were high and hundreds of anti-Israel protests took place in dozens of U.S. cities. As Jewish individuals were violently beaten in the streets from New York to Los Angeles, a total of 387 incidents were reported that month with 297 of the incidents occurring after May 10, the date marking the official start of military action.
“While we have always seen a rise in antisemitic activity during periods of increased hostilities between Israel and terrorist groups, the violence we witnessed in America during the conflict last May was shocking,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO and National Director. “Jews were being attacked in the streets for no other reason than the fact that they were Jewish, and it seemed as if the working assumption was that if you were Jewish, you were blameworthy for what was happening half a world away.”
The May conflict represented only one of several spikes reported throughout the year and, overall, anti-Israel sentiment did not account for the lion’s share of incidents in 2021. In fact, antisemitic acts also spiked in November and December, times when there was no similar triggering factor. Nearly 18 percent of the incidents last year – at least 484 – were attributable to actions by domestic extremists.
“When it comes to antisemitic activity in America, you cannot point to any single ideology or belief system, and in many cases, we simply don’t know the motivation,” said Greenblatt. “But we do know that Jews are experiencing more antisemitic incidents than we have in this country in at least 40 years, and that’s a deeply troubling indicator of larger societal fissures.”
In 2021, ADL counted a total of 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the U.S. This represents a 34 percent increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. The Audit classifies incidents into three categories:
Assault: A total of 88 incidents were categorized as assault, defined as cases where Jewish people (or people perceived to be Jewish) were targeted with physical violence accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus. Antisemitic assaults increased 167 percent from the 33 reported in 2020. Eleven of the assaults in 2021 were perpetrated with deadly weapons. The 88 incidents of assault included 131 victims. Fortunately, no fatalities linked to antisemitic assaults were reported in 2021.
Harassment: Of the total, 1,776 incidents were categorized as harassment, defined as cases where one or more Jewish people (or people perceived to be Jewish) were harassed with antisemitic slurs, stereotypes or conspiracy theories. Acts of harassment increased 43 percent, up from 1,242 incidents in 2020.
Vandalism: Another 853 incidents were categorized as vandalism, defined as cases where property was damaged along with evidence of antisemitic intent. Acts of antisemitic vandalism increased 14 percent from the 751 incidents reported in 2020. Swastikas, which are generally interpreted as symbols of antisemitic hatred, were present in more than two-thirds (578) of these incidents.
Incidents were reported in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. The states with the highest number of incidents were New York (416), New Jersey (370), California (367), Florida (190), Michigan (112) and Texas (112). Combined, these states accounted for 58 percent of the total incidents.
In 2021, there were 525 reported incidents at Jewish institutions such as synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish schools, an increase of 61 percent from 327 in 2020. Of the total, 413 were incidents of harassment, 101 were incidents of vandalism and 11 were assaults. About one-quarter of the harassment incidents (111) were linked to anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiments.
ADL’s Audit recorded 484 antisemitic incidents attributed to known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology. This represents 18 percent of the total number of incidents. White supremacist groups or extremists were responsible for 422 antisemitic propaganda distributions, a 52 percent increase year over year.
A total of 345 antisemitic incidents in 2021 involved references to Israel or Zionism, compared to 178 in 2020. Of those, 68 appeared in the form of white supremacist propaganda efforts, which attempt to foment anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs.
A total of 494 incidents were identified through newly established partnerships between ADL and several Jewish organizations, including the Community Security Initiative (CSI), Community Security Service (CSS), Hillel International, Secure Community Network (SCN), Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. This shared reporting represented 18 percent of the total incidents. Even without improved reporting through cooperative partnerships, the 2021 Audit numbers still would have been the highest recorded by ADL, with 2,223 incidents.
The ADL Center on Extremism has reflected the complete 2021 data, as well as data from the previous three years, on its H.E.A.T. Map, an interactive online tool that allows users to geographically chart antisemitic incidents and events nationally and regionally.
Israel-Hamas Conflict Stokes Antisemitism in U.S.
On May 10, 2021, fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas with heightened tensions and violence in some Israeli cities with large Arab and Jewish populations. As the crisis unfolded, there was a surge of antisemitic incidents targeting Jewish communities and individuals in the U.S. and around the world.
Between May 10 and the end of the month, ADL tracked a 141 percent increase in incidents over the same time period in 2020. There were 211 cases of harassment, 71 cases of vandalism and 15 assaults reported across the U.S., and nearly 40 percent of the total incidents that month included explicit references to Israel or Zionism.
At least eight of the antisemitic assaults were motivated by anti-Israel or anti-Zionist sentiment. For example, on May 18, patrons at a Los Angeles restaurant were attacked by individuals who arrived in cars carrying Palestinian flags who said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves” after the customers confirmed they were Jewish. The Palestinian supporters pushed one of the victims to the ground and kicked him. Soon after, a brawl erupted, and subsequent news reports indicated the attackers also hurled anti-Jewish slurs. On May 20, in Manhattan, a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke was attacked by a group of individuals who yelled anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slurs while they punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed and beat him.
The ADL Audit includes both criminal and non-criminal acts of harassment and intimidation, including distribution of hate propaganda, threats and slurs, as well as vandalism and assault. Compiled using information provided by victims, law enforcement and community leaders, and evaluated by ADL’s professional staff, the Audit provides a regular snapshot of one specific aspect of a nationwide problem while identifying possible trends or changes in the types of activity reported. This information assists ADL in developing and enhancing its programs to counter and prevent the spread of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.
The Audit offers a snapshot of one of the ways American Jews encounter antisemitism, but a full understanding of antisemitism in the U.S. requires other forms of analysis as well, including public opinion polling, assessments of online antisemitism and examinations of extremist activity, all of which ADL offers in other reports, such as ADL Global 100, Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience, Survey on Jewish Americans’ Experiences with Antisemitism, Murder and Extremism, and the ADL Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews.