Schools and graves vandalized with swastikas and white supremacist fliers left on doorsteps – these are just some of the antisemitic incidents that happened in the Orange County and Long Beach region last year.
An audit released by the Anti-Defamation League late April found that there were 62 antisemitic incidents in the Orange County and Long Beach area last year – nearly double that of 2020 when the ADL tracked 34 incidents in the region.
Peter Levi, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Orange County/Long Beach chapter, said he anticipated an increase when reports started coming in last year.
“We saw an 82% increase in antisemitic incidents,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview. “I knew there would be an increase, but this is a really large and significant increase.”
To read the audit, click here.
The audit comes as Orange County officials and local organizations struggle to curb the trend of increasing hate crimes and incidents.
The audit’s release also comes roughly 77 years after Allied forces began liberating Nazi death camps in April 1945 as troops were pushing into Germany. The Holocaust ended up killing more than 6 million Jews.
Meanwhile, some worry that the increase in antisemitism is a harbinger for other communities throughout Orange County.
While there were no reported assaults motivated by antisemitism in the OC and Long Beach region last year, there were 40 incidents of harrasment and 22 acts of vandalism, according to the league’s local chapter.
This reflects a 221% increase of incidents in the last four years, according to a news release from the league.
Antisemitism didn’t just soar locally.
Across the state, there has also been a 27% spike in antisemitism, with assaults jumping from 4 to 15 in from 2020 to 2021, according to the news release.
And nationally, antisemitic incidents skyrocketed to an all time high of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism. It was the highest number of incidents reported since the league started tracking the data in 1979.
The number of antisemitic assaults nationally increased by 167% in 2021, according to the audit.
Stemming Hate and Racism
To combat the increases in hate and racism, the OC Human Relations Commission is overhauling some of its services.
Human Relations CEO Allison Lehmann Edwards said the commission is rolling out a new call center to report hate incidents, along with creating new ways to report them, like through text messages.
The commission also plans on increasing their hours and language capacity for more people to be able to report such incidents.
They will also be launching a public education campaign about hate activity, she said
“Many of these things are designed to prevent hate but they’re also designed to get the most accurate reporting of hate activity that we can in the county and that accuracy helps us to make sure that we can garner the support of our local leaders to continue to address hate in all its forms and put the funding behind it to invest in prevention and response,” Edwards said in a Wednesday phone interview.
The rise in antisemitism is also causing groups like the Jewish Federation of Orange County, with support from the ADL and OC Human Relations Commission, to organize a summit at UC Irvine in August to highlight the history of antisemitism and how to combat Jewish hate in the community.
Lisa Armony, chief impact cfficer with the Jewish Federation of Orange County, said the summit is being organized not just because of the nationwide surge in antisemitic incidents, but hatred against other communities also.
“We felt that it was very important to bring community stakeholders together for a day of learning about what is antisemitism. What is its relationship to other forms of hate?” she said in a Wednesday phone interview. “And how can we engage together in important community work that will counter antisemitism and hate?”
Antisemitism in Orange County Schools
Many of the examples provided in a news release from the Anti-Defamation League listed vandalism near or in local schools, as well as students harassing Jewish classmates or making antisemitic remarks.
“In March, a Jewish elementary school student in Irvine was harassed by a classmate who said: ‘I wish Hitler was alive to kill you and the rest of the Jews,’” the news release reads. “In December, a South County public middle school experienced swastika graffiti, student giving Nazi salutes and antisemitic greetings.”
Levi said across the country there was 106% increase of antisemitism in schools and that there were multiple factors that contribute to the increase, including the political polarization of the U.S. and more time spent online during the pandemic.
“It’s absolutely horrendous,” he said. “With more and more kids being online, the exposure is there and the tragic result is that kids are sharing these ideas and these memes and these images and this language in their own social networks, sometimes online and also in person.”
Part of the league’s response to all forms of hate and racism is working with students, teachers and school staff to teach the importance of understanding others.
The group also provides bullying prevention and anti-bias training to schools.
“We do lots of work with training with teachers, because if we can give the teachers those tools, then they are consistent sources to help create healthy campus climates,” he said. “We also have our No Place for Hate framework, which is a bullying prevention framework that schools can adopt with ADL as a support and resource.”
Antisemitism isn’t just happening in schools.
Last year, white supremacy and Ku Klux Klan fliers were also left at the doorsteps of resident’s homes in a couple of cities.
The rally fizzled out and instead saw many more counter protestors who showed up to rail against the White Lives Matter movement.
Edwards, CEO of the OC Human Relations Council, said the antisemitic fliers last year used “old tired tropes of antisemitism to fan flames of fear and othering.”
“It’s just really something that we need to give as little airtime as possible,” she said.
Antisemitism Historically Leads to Hatred Against Other Communities
Antisemitism is not a new issue in Orange County.
“Historically in Orange County, the Jewish community has been one of the most targeted groups in the last 30 years that we’ve been tracking hate activity,” Edwards said.
In the past year, Orange County’s Jewish community leaders have condemned some of the remarks made by residents at public meetings during which speakers often times compared COVID vaccines and other pandemic protocols to the Holocaust.
The 2020 hate crime report released last year by the OC Human Relations commission showed a higher number of antisemitic incidents in the county compared to the findings of the ADL’s audit during that same time frame.
The commission found the second most reported hate crimes in the county were geared toward the Jewish population, with 94 hate incident reports of antisemitism.
The ADL found 34 incidents in 2020.
Black people experienced the most hate crimes, while making up roughly around 2% of the county’s population.
In fact, hate crimes and incidents in general have been increasing throughout Orange County over recent years.
There was also a significant increase in hate incidents towards Asian Americans since the start of COVID-19 pandemic.
Armony, Levi and Edwards all said antisemitism usually leads to hatred of other communities.
“We’ve seen that historically. What starts out with antisemitism, never stops with the Jewish people. Antisemitism is sort of the start of larger societal issues, including hate directed at other marginalized communities,” Armony said.
She said not everyone recognizes that connection.
“That’s something unfortunately, that scholars of antisemitism understand. But it’s not necessarily as widely understood in the broader community, including in the community that is committed to fighting hate, I don’t think they necessarily understand those relationships,” Armony said.
Edwards said hate does not exist in a vacuum.
“Seeing these connections really should compel us to make sure that we are doing all we can to denounce, prevent and address antisemitism. As you know, these things are intersectional. They’re linked,” she said.
Levi stressed the importance of reporting hate incidents.
“Reporting creates data and data helps us drive policy that’s really important and reporting also brings support and resources to the individuals who are targeted, as well as to help resolve those situations,” he said.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.