Crimes against Jews in Texas and Across the Country Continue to Rise

Crimes against Jews in Texas and Across the Country Continue to Rise

Hate Crime Statistics, 2017. Courtesy of FBI

By Tonyia Cone

In the wake of the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the history of the United States—the tragic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October—the FBI reported that hate crimes were up 17 percent in 2017, three times more than the 5 percent increase the FBI reported for 2016.

In 2017, 16,149 law enforcement agencies participated in the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Program. Of these agencies, 2,040 reported 7,175 hate crime incidents involving 8,437 offenses. This means some incidents involved multiple offenses.

A hate crime is defined as an offense—like murder, arson or vandalism—with an added element of bias. Federal and state of Texas definitions of hate crime differ.

Texas law defines hate crime as motivated by a victim's race, religion, color, sex, disability, sexual preference, age or national origin.

The FBI defines hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or property motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.

At the same time, the FBI’s website states, “Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

Almost 60 percent of hate crimes reported to the FBI were motivated by racial, ethnic and ancestry bias. Of the 22 percent of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 58.1 percent were anti-Jewish, the highest of any targeted religious group. This 37 percent spike in crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions included 938 crimes against Jews in 2017, up from 684 in 2016.

The Texas Department of Public Safety’s website says the total number of reported Texas hate crime incidents in 2017 was 190, an increase of 6.7 percent when compared to 2016. These incidents involved 229 victims, 209 offenders, and resulted in a total of 194 offenses.

The largest percentage of hate crimes reported in Texas were motivated by racial, ethnic or ancestry bias. The second most commonly reported bias motivation in Texas was sexual orientation. The third most common bias in Texas was religious, and the fourth was gender identity.

In Texas, 5.6 percent of all hate crimes reported in 2017 were motivated by anti-Jewish bias.

While at least 91 cities with populations exceeding 100,000 people did not report any data to the FBI or affirmatively reported zero hate crimes, approximately 1,000—or 6 percent—more law enforcement agencies reported hate crime data to the FBI in 2017 than in 2016, which may explain some of the increase in hate crime in 2017.

“You can’t move what you can’t measure; without accurate reporting we don’t have a real sense of how widespread hate crimes are and what needs to be done to address bias in society,” said ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt in a statement. “It is incumbent on police departments, mayors, governors, and county officials across the country to tally hate crimes data and report it to the FBI. The FBI can only report what the data they receive. We must do more to make sure that cities report credible data.”

Some hate crimes are not prosecuted as such because doing so requires the burden of proving an offender’s motivation in addition to proving the crime. Hate crimes are also underreported because victims want to move on and forget what happened.

Renee Lafair, Anti-Defamation League regional director, explained that leaders at ADL are concerned about the rise in hate crimes and the increase in crimes targeting minority groups.

“While the Jewish community has known hate throughout history,” Lafair said in a November 7 Austin American-Statesman op-ed, “Anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past—it is thriving today.”

Anti-Semitism is defined as hostile beliefs or behavior toward Jews just because they are Jewish. Lafair said anti-Semitism takes different forms, including the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, which happened recently in El Paso, a teacher making Holocaust jokes, graffiti in the form of swastikas, and white nationalists marching while chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

Two cases of potential anti-Semitic acts occurred in Austin in October. One involved graffiti, and the other was a break-in of a Jewish business. (See sidebar.)

Since 1979, ADL has conducted and published an annual “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.” Not only was the 2017 surge in anti-Semitism in the United States the largest single-year increase on record, it was also the second-highest number reported since ADL began tracking incidents.

“This year, a record number of right-wing extremists and bigots ran for office,” Lafair explained.

Social media is also fueling anti-Semitic rhetoric.

In October, ADL released a report showing that far-right extremists and the so-called “Alt-Right” have stepped up “online propaganda offensives,” using social media to attack and try to intimidate Jews—especially Jewish journalists—in the runup to the midterm elections.

The report analyzed 7.5 million tweets and 8 million hashtags and interviewed several Jews in politics and journalism, and found a “marked rise in the number of online attacks” in the runup to the midterms against the Jewish community.

About two-thirds of the attacks were from real accounts. Bots also played a significant role; bots accounted for almost 30 percent of the accounts and more than 40 percent of the content in the attacks.

“Online hate is not some idle threat that just lives online and can be ignored. Technology companies need to work harder and faster to curb the vicious violence-inducing harassment on their platforms,” Lafair said.

Anti-Semitism is rising on campus as well.

ADL reported a total of 204 incidents in 2017 on college and university campuses across the United States, compared with 108 in 2016, an increase of 89 percent.

“White supremacists have ramped up campus activities in recent years, which they believe aids in recruitment and spreads fear on campus. White supremacist propaganda on campuses played a significant role in the increase. At least 46 incidents on campuses in 2017 were anti-Semitic literature distribution, compared with 19 in 2016,” Lafair said.

Greenblatt said the FBI report provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America.

“That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs,” he said.

The FBI encourages anyone to contact the FBI Austin Resident Agency office at 210-225-6741 to report hate crimes or any violations of federal law. ■

Resources for Fighting Anti-Semitism

The following resources are available at ADL.org

  • Understand and define anti-Semitism

  • How to secure your religious institution

  • Table Talks: How to have conversations with your children about current events, including Pittsburgh

  • How to confront anti-Semitism at school and on campus

  • Build inclusive schools through No Place for Hate

  • Understand extremism and bigotry

  • Still have questions about anti-Semitism? Call ADL Austin at 512-249-7960.

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