Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2020

Audit

Each year, ADL’s (Anti-Defamation League) Center on Extremism tracks incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the United States. Since 1979, we have published this information in an annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.

  • In 2020, ADL tabulated 2,024 reported antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. This is a 4% decrease from the 2,107 incidents recorded in 2019 but is still the third-highest year on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
  • Of the 2,024 incidents recorded in 2020, 1,242 were cases of harassment, a 10% increase from 1,127 in 2019, and 751 incidents were cases of vandalism, an 18% decrease from 919 in 2019. The 31 incidents of antisemitic assault (a 49% decrease from 61 in 2019), involved 41 victims and no fatalities.
  • In 2020 there were no assaults resulting in mass casualties or victims perpetrated against the Jewish community. Of the physical assaults against Jewish individuals, the vast majority were perpetrated without the use of a deadly weapon.
  • Incidents in K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, decreased in 2020. ADL recorded 161 incidents at non-Jewish K-12 schools (down 61% from 411 incidents in 2019), and 128 incidents at colleges and universities (down 32% from 186 in 2019). This is likely due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures and the move to remote learning.
  • In 2020, there were 327 reported incidents at Jewish institutions such as synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish schools, an increase of 40% from 234 in 2019. 264 were incidents of harassment, 61 were incidents of vandalism and three were incidents of assault. Of the 264 incidents of harassment, 114 were “Zoombombings.”
  • In 2020, ADL recorded 331 antisemitic incidents attributed to known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology. This represents 16% of the total number of incidents. White supremacist groups were responsible for 277 antisemitic propaganda distributions. Other extremist activity included incidents instigated by the Goyim Defense League, a loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism. Additionally, ADL was aware of five Zoombombing incidents perpetrated by known extremists including Andrew Aurenheimer, AKA “weev,” who is a known white supremacist and hacker with a history of exploiting technology in order to gain attention.
  • 178 antisemitic incidents in 2020 involved references to Israel or Zionism, compared to 175 antisemitic incidents in 2019. Of the 178 incidents in 2020, 38 took the form of white supremacist groups’ propaganda efforts, which attempt to foment anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs. Most of the remaining incidents were expressions of anti-Israel animus that incorporated antisemitic imagery or harassment and demonization of Jewish students for their connection -- real or assumed -- to Israel.
  • Month-by-month comparisons indicate that the COVID-19 lockdown measures had two major impacts on antisemitic incidents in 2020.
    • In January and February, antisemitic incidents in schools, colleges and universities were reported at significantly higher levels than they were during the same period in 2019. Those numbers dropped precipitously as educational institutions across the nation switched to remote learning.
    • The other impact was on the nature of incidents, particularly those targeting synagogues and Jewish institutions in the form of “Zoombombings.”

In 2020, ADL tabulated 2,024 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. This represents a 4% decrease from 2,107 incidents recorded in 2019 but is still the third highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

Harassment: 1,242 incidents were reported as harassment, defined as cases where one or more Jewish people reported having been harassed by the perceived antisemitic words, spoken or written, or actions of another person or group. Acts of harassment increased 10% from 1,127 in 2019.

Vandalism: 751 incidents took the form of vandalism, defined as cases where property was damaged in a manner that harmed or intimidated Jews. Swastikas, which are generally interpreted by Jews to be symbols of antisemitic hatred, were present in 517 of these incidents. Acts of antisemitic vandalism decreased 18% from 919 in 2019.

Assaults: 31 incidents took the form of assault, defined as cases where people’s bodies are targeted with violence accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus. Antisemitic assault decreased 49% from 61 in 2019. Five of the assaults were perpetrated with deadly weapons. The 31 assaults resulted in 41 victims and zero fatalities.

 

Incidents occurred in 47 states as well as the District of Columbia. The states with the highest number of incidents were New York (336), New Jersey (295), California (289), Florida (127) and Pennsylvania (101).  Combined, these states account for 57% of the total incidents.

Incidents were highest in January (270), February (195) and April (185); and were lowest in December (135). As usual, incidents dropped off slightly in summer months, but remained at an average of 155 incidents per month with the beginning of the stay-at-home measures in March and April to safeguard from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Audit of Antisemitic Incidents is composed of criminal and non-criminal incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault against individuals and groups as reported to ADL by victims, law enforcement and the media. It is not a public opinion poll or an effort to catalog every expression of antisemitism.

Incidents are defined as vandalism of property, or as harassment or assault on individuals or groups, where either 1) circumstances indicate anti-Jewish animus on the part of the perpetrator, or 2) a reasonable person could plausibly conclude that they were being victimized due to their Jewish identity. Vandalism against Jewish religious institutions or cemeteries may also be included. The appearance of swastikas, which are generally interpreted by Jews to be symbols of antisemitic hatred, are also included. However, swastikas are not included in circumstances when they appear to be targeting a different minority group. Additionally, the use of a swastika as a means of political protest is also not included. In 2020, many Americans utilized the swastika, as well as references to Hitler and Nazi-era policies as a comparison to COVID-19 lockdown measures, mask mandates, etc. Americans similarly used these references as a way to criticize politicians.

Although some incidents are hate crimes, the Audit includes non-criminal acts that rise to the level of an antisemitic incident as we define it above. ADL carefully examines the credibility of all incidents, including obtaining independent verification when possible.

The Audit excludes the following types of incidents:

  • Antisemitic activities or statements which take place privately (e.g. at a private extremist meeting) or in a manner that requires potential victims to “opt-in” in order to access them (e.g. by going to particular websites where unmoderated discussion occurs, looking at specific individuals’ social media pages, etc.)
  • Instances of discrimination (e.g. a Jewish worker not receiving an accommodation for Rosh Hashanah), unless the discrimination is accompanied by verbal harassment as described above.
  • General expressions of white supremacy or other hateful ideologies, unless those expressions include overt antisemitic elements.

The Audit of Antisemitic Incidents includes cases where individuals or groups were harassed online by being sent antisemitic content in direct messages, on listservs or in social media settings where they would have the reasonable expectation to not be subjected to antisemitism. The Audit does not attempt to assess the total amount of antisemitism online.

ADL is careful to not conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism. However, Israel-related harassment of identifiable groups or individuals may be included when the harassment incorporates established anti-Jewish references, accusations and/or conspiracy theories, or when they demonize American Jews for their support of Israel. We have also included cases of picketing of Jewish religious or cultural institutions for their purported support for Israel.

The 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents documents alarmingly high levels of antisemitism in the United States, which require a concerted whole-of-society response.  With regard to potential actions in the policy arena in particular, ADL is sharing a broad array of recommendations with U.S. government officials, including the following:

1. Speak out against antisemitism and all forms of hate.

Public officials and civic leaders — from the President, to governors, attorneys general, mayors, other civic leaders and law enforcement authorities — should use their bully pulpits to speak out against antisemitism and all forms of hate and extremism.

2. Fund protections for communal institutions.

Federal, state and local authorities should provide funding for security hardening and enhancements for at-risk houses of worship, schools, community centers and other non-profit institutions.  At a time of increased attention to white supremacy, antisemitism, extremist and hate-motivated violence, the federal government and states should significantly increase the Non-Profit Security Grant program funding and institutional security training and outreach.

The Non-Profit Security Grant Program (NSGP) provides non-profits with the capacity to increase their defense against these threats, including physical security and cybersecurity capacity and coordination. Congress appropriated $180 million for the Non-Profit Security Grant Program for FY 2021. Unfortunately, despite a generous increase in the NSGP program in recent years, the need continues to be greater than the resources provided. ADL requests $360 million in federal appropriations to help keep communities safe.

Additionally, the federal government should invest in the Justice Department’s Community Relations Services to help build trust, engage communities, and support victims. CRS has a unique and important role to play in complementing the Justice Department’s law enforcement activities, particularly when those activities involve members of vulnerable and marginalized communities.  CRS is charged with pursuing justice and reconciliation throughout all of the States and territories, by engaging crime victims, government agencies, civil rights groups and community leaders in healing and conflict resolution.  CRS concentrates on developing mutual understanding in communities most challenged by tension and helps them develop local capacity and tools to prevent hate crimes from reoccurring.  ADL suggests increasing funding to $40 million in Fiscal Year 2022

3. Promote education on hate crimes for law enforcement officials.

While hate crimes are only one type of incident catalogued by the Audit, albeit one of the most egregious, law enforcement’s education about such attacks, and its reporting of them is woefully lacking.  The FBI’s most recent release of annual Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) data for 2019 revealed a harrowing trend of increasing hate crimes being reported in the United States, even as fewer law enforcement agencies provided data to the FBI. The increase in reported hate crimes came despite the fact that in 2019, for the second straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI declined. 

When one individual is targeted by a hate crime, it hurts the whole community, and leaves people feeling vulnerable and afraid. That is the nature of a hate crime -- it is intended and has the effect of terrorizing and impacting a larger community that shares certain of the identity characteristics that marked the individual target and motivated the attack. The federal government’s leadership is indispensable to the critical task of improving effectiveness at tracking, mitigating the harms caused by and ultimately, preventing destructive bias-motivated aggression. 

Governments should provide law enforcement officials with the tools and guidance they need to prevent and effectively identify, investigate and respond to hate crimes, while providing trauma-informed comfort and assistance to individual victims and community members. Over time the manifestations of particular antisemitic conspiracies and hate can evolve, and it’s important that law enforcement have access to ongoing education and expertise in order to track such evolutions. Law enforcement also should be educated in community policing best practices. When hate crimes do occur, law enforcement officials must be prepared to take prompt, strong action to investigate every incident – and to hold perpetrators accountable to the full extent of the law. Additionally, law enforcement agencies should use data from the FBI, Department of Education and NGOs such ADL and Stop AAPI Hate to anticipate where hate incidents are most likely to occur and to proactively contact community members and institutions to strengthen relationships and collaboration. 

4. Improve hate crime laws and data collection.

Fighting hate crime is a critical task, especially now that antisemitism, anti-Asian-American violence, and other forms of racism and bigotry are at unusually high levels. The FBI’s most recent Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) report revealed that 2019 was the deadliest year on record with 51 hate crime murders – a 113-percent increase over the previous record of 24 set in 2018. Total hate crime incidents rose to 7,314, marking the fourth increase in the past five years. Race-based hate crimes remained the most common type of hate crime, as has been the case every year since the FBI began reporting hate crime data nearly three decades ago; of these, the largest number of crimes targeted Black victims. After declining in 2018, religion-based hate crimes increased by 7 percent, with 63 percent of the total number of reported religion-based hate crimes directed at Jews and Jewish institutions. Anti-Hispanic hate crimes rose nearly 9 percent, the fourth straight year of escalating numbers. This is a trend not unrelated to the escalation of anti-immigrant rhetoric, bigotry, and dehumanization in the public discourse. In addition, after a 41-percent increase in 2018, hate crimes targeting individuals based on gender identity rose another 18 percent in 2019.

As disturbing as these statistics are, they only tell us about a small fraction of all hate crimes.  Many law enforcement agencies do not participate meaningfully in reporting pursuant to the Hate Crime Statistics Act. In 2019, for the second straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI declined. In addition, in 2019, 86 percent of participating agencies did not report a single hate crime to the FBI, including at least 71 cities with populations over 100,000. Large gaps in data about hate-motivated attacks, along with factors like mistrust between affected communities and police and disincentives to prosecute infractions as hate crimes, limit the effectiveness of civil society and law enforcement actors who are working to eliminate hate crime. Significant changes and supportive efforts, up to and including reporting mandates, are necessary to involve all of society in the critical task of combating hate.

Congress should give DOJ the tools it needs to do this work by enacting the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act (H.R. 2382), which would ensure that the Department of Justice actively supports law enforcement agencies in strengthening their practices and capacity to investigate and report on hate crimes and evaluates the benefits of more comprehensive hate crime data. While we work toward passage of the NO HATE Act itself, Congress can advance its goals by requesting an accounting from the Attorney General of law enforcement agencies’ hate crime reporting practices, and by directing State and local law enforcement assistance to programs and efforts that improve hate crime investigation, record-keeping and reporting.

5. Promote anti-bias, bullying prevention, civics education, and Holocaust and genocide education programs in elementary and secondary schools.

Eliminating antisemitism and other forms of bigotry requires government as well as civil society leadership to promote anti-bias, anti-hate, and civics education programs in our nation’s schools.  Especially in these divided and polarized times, every elementary and secondary school should promote an inclusive school climate and activities that celebrate our nation’s diversity. One critical aspect of that effort is the need to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust and other instances of genocide. Studies have shown that this can provide an effective means of combating identity-based hate and bigotry. Every state should mandate teaching about the Holocaust.  Also, the Department of Education should ensure that guidance prompts local and state school systems to report school-based antisemitic and other bias-motivated incidents, including those perpetrated by someone other than a teacher or student, through the Civil Rights Data Collection program.

6. Report antisemitic incidents to ADL.

To our own community and to our allies, we say: there are no trivial acts of antisemitism -- just as there are no trivial acts of other forms of racism, hate and bigotry.  That does not mean that responses should be uniform; they should be tailored to the circumstances, seriousness of the incident, age of the perpetrators, and so forth. But all need to be reported and responded to.

We at ADL want to know about every single incident that occurs – and every incident must be responded to appropriately.  It is impossible to respond effectively to a problem in terms of education, healing, outreach to targets or penalties against perpetrators unless we know about it.  If we expect law enforcement officials and community members to take these incidents seriously, we must take them seriously.  They should be reported both to ADL and to the police.

7. Government Must Fight Antisemitism by Extremists.

On January 6, 2021 we watched as an insurrection fueled by violent conspiracy theories, meritless accusations of electoral fraud, and white supremacy gripped the nation and attacked our democracy. Unfortunately, this act of domestic terrorism was not a surprise; it is a threat ADL has been warning about for many years - one we had warned law enforcement about once this specific threat became clear, even before the tragic events unfolded.

In its aftermath, ADL created the PROTECT Plan - a comprehensive, bipartisan approach to mitigate the threat of domestic terrorism while protecting civil rights and liberties. Parts of this strategy can be pursued via appropriations: to prioritize the domestic terrorism threa - which is overwhelmingly from rightwing extremists and in particular white supremacists at this time --t, resource according to that threat, provide law enforcement and the military with the tools needed to address extremist movements externally and extremists within their ranks, ensure that social media companies are more accountable for dangerous content, and tackle the transnational dimensions of this threat head-on. Together, these steps would have a significant impact on preventing and countering antisemitism by extremists. 

8. Governments Must Address Online Antisemitism, Hate and Harassment.

The government has an important role in reducing online antisemitism, hate and harassment. Eighty percent of Americans agree there should be more police training and resources to help people with online hate and harassment. And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that laws should be strengthened to hold perpetrators of online hate accountable for their conduct (81%). Government can address online hate and harassment through legislation, training, and research.

ADL’s REPAIR Plan lays out clear strategies to decrease online hate, including the below:

9. Prioritize regulations and reform

Platforms play an active role by providing the means for transmitting hateful content and, more passively, enabling the incitement of violence, political polarization, spreading of conspiracies and facilitation of discrimination and harassment. Unlike traditional publishers, technology companies are largely shielded from legal liability due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230). There is a lack of other legislative or regulatory requirements even when companies’ products, actions or omissions may aid and abet egregious civil rights abuses and criminal activity. Oversight and independent verification of the claims technology companies make in their transparency reports and related communications are not in place because there are no independent audits of their internal systems.

Governments must carefully reform, not eliminate, CDA 230 to hold social media platforms accountable for their role in fomenting hate. Reform must prioritize both civil rights and civil liberties. Free speech can be protected while taking care not to cement Big Tech’s monopolistic power by making it too costly for all but the largest platforms to ward off frivolous lawsuits and trolls. Many advocates and legislators have focused on reforming CDA 230 in search of a nonexistent one-stop solution, but it is important to acknowledge that ratcheting back CDA 230 is a single step in a much larger process. Thus, the government must also pass laws and undertake other approaches that require regular reporting, increased transparency and independent audits regarding content moderation, algorithms and engagement features.

10. Strengthen laws against perpetrators of online hate

Antisemitism, hate and harassment exist both on the ground and in online spaces, but our laws have not kept up. Many forms of severe online misconduct are inadequately covered by cybercrime, harassment, stalking and hate crime laws currently on the books. State and federal lawmakers have an opportunity to lead the fight against online hate and harassment by increasing protections for targets and penalizing perpetrators of online abuse. Legislators can make sure constitutional and comprehensive laws cover cybercrimes such as doxing, swatting, cyberstalking, cyberharassment, non-consensual distribution of intimate imagery, video-teleconferencing, and unlawful and deceptive synthetic media (sometimes called “deep fakes”). One way to achieve this is by improving and passing the Online Safety Modernization Act at the federal level. Appropriations are also necessary, as legislatures and executive branches must resource to the threat posed by white supremacists and others who target the Jewish community.

11. Improve education of law enforcement

Law enforcement is a crucial responder to online hate and harassment, especially when users feel they are in imminent danger. Increasing training and resources for agencies is essential to ensure law enforcement personnel can better help people who have been targeted. Additionally, better training and resources can support more effective investigations and prosecutions for these types of cases. Finally, the training and resources should also include ways in which law enforcement can refer people to non-legal support in the event that online harassment cannot be addressed through legal remedies.

12. Commission research on tools and services to mitigate online hate

Users, especially those who have been or are likely to be targeted, rely on private technology companies to provide them with tools and services to defend themselves from online hate and harassment. Congress should commission research that summarizes and evaluates platforms’ available tools to their users to protect themselves. The review process should also assess users’ needs and include a gap analysis of available tools and services.

13. Investigate the impact of product designs and implementations

Much of the emphasis has been on the role of platform policy in addressing hate and harassment on digital social platforms, but government actors do not have a solid understanding of the role of product design. Government agencies must support research into how product design and implementation play a role in amplifying and encouraging the spread of hate, harassment, and extremism and making the content and behavior involved in these activities accessible to the public. Governments should also commission a third-party audit of product systems related to product design as a means to hold technology companies accountable in terms of how or whether they are implementing anti-hate by design to address online abuse.

For Technology Platforms

Along with this Audit, our findings from the 2021 Online Hate and Harassment Report show that the vast majority of the American public — across demographics, political ideology and experience with online harassment — want both government and private technology companies to take more action against online hate and harassment.

There is a consistent demand by users (81% of respondents) for technology companies to do more to counter online hate and harassment. An overwhelming majority of respondents also agree with recommendations for increased user control of their online space (78%), improved tools for reporting or flagging hateful content (78%), increased transparency (77%), and accountability in the form of independent reports (69%).

1. Ensure strong policies against hate

As a baseline, technology companies should ensure that their social media platforms have community guidelines or standards that comprehensively address hateful content and harassing behavior, and clearly define consequences for violations. This should be the standard for all platforms active or launching in 2021 and beyond. While some platforms have comprehensive policies at present, not all do. Platforms that do not have robust policies show indifference to addressing the harms suffered by vulnerable and marginalized communities.

2. Enforce policies equitably and at scale

Technology companies must regularly evaluate how product features and policy enforcement on their social media platforms fuel discrimination, bias and hate and make product/policy improvements based on these evaluations. When something goes wrong on a major social media platform, tech companies blame scale. Millions, even billions, of pieces of content can be uploaded worldwide, shared, viewed and commented upon by millions of viewers in a matter of seconds. This massive scale serves as the justification for “mistakes” in content moderation, even if those mistakes result in violence and death. But scale is not the primary problem—defective policies, bad products and subpar enforcement are. When it comes to enforcement, platforms too often miss something, intentionally refrain from applying the rules for certain users (like elected officials) or have biased algorithms and human moderators who do not equitably apply community guidelines. Companies should also create and maintain diverse teams to mitigate bias when designing consumer products and services, drafting policies, and making content moderation decisions.

3. Design to reduce the influence and impact of hate

Technology companies should put people over profit by redesigning their social media platforms and adjusting their algorithms to reduce the impact of hate and harassment. Currently, most platform algorithms are designed to maximize user engagement to keep users logged on for as long as possible to generate advertising revenue. Too often, those algorithms recommend inflammatory content. Questionable content shared by users who have been flagged multiple times should not appear on news feeds and home pages even if the result is decreased.

4. Expand tools and services for targets of harassment

Given the prevalence of online hate and harassment, technology companies should ensure their social media platforms offer far more services and tools that are both easily accessed and effective for individuals facing or fearing an online attack. Social media platforms should provide effective, expeditious resources and redress for victims of hate and harassment. For example, users should be allowed to flag multiple pieces of content within one report instead of creating a new report for each piece of content. They should be able to block multiple perpetrators of online harassment at once instead of undergoing the laborious process of blocking them individually. IP blocking, preventing users who repeatedly engage in hate and harassment from accessing a platform even if they create a new profile, helps protect victims.

5. Improve transparency and increase oversight

Technology companies must produce regular transparency reports and submit to regularly scheduled external, independent audits so that the public knows the extent of hate and harassment on their platforms. Transparency reports must be expanded to include far more than the small amount of important data about online hate they now include. They should include data from user-generated, identity-based reporting. For example, if users report they were targeted because they were Jewish, that can then be aggregated to become a subjective measure of the scale and nature of antisemitic content on a platform. This metric would be useful to researchers and practitioners developing solutions to these problems. In addition to transparency about policies and content moderation, companies can increase transparency related to their products. At present, technology companies have little to no transparency in terms of how they build, improve and fix the products embedded into their platforms to address hate and harassment. In addition to transparency reports, technology companies should allow third-party audits of their work on content moderation on their platforms. Audits would also allow the public to verify that the company followed through on its stated actions and to assess the effectiveness of company efforts across time.

Antisemitic incidents are an all-too-common reality in our communities. 

You can take action against antisemitism with ADL. At a time that can feel isolating, we can still join together to fight hate for good and make a difference in our communities.

5 Ways you can Join ADL in Fighting Hate for Good in your Community


Report an Incident
We can’t do this alone. Because of thousands of people like you who have reported incidents, we have been able to help communities across the country by reporting on trends, educating lawmakers and law enforcement and advocating for stronger protections from incidents and crimes. 

If you have experienced or witnessed an incident of antisemitism, extremism, bias, bigotry or hate, please report it using our incident form. When you hear of an incident happening to a loved one, friend or community member, share with them that they can report the incident to ADL. We will do our best to assess your situation and respond as quickly as possible. Any personal information provided will be kept strictly confidential. If this is an emergency, please dial 911.
 

 

Host a Discussion
Use our discussion guides for educators and families and adults to start a conversation around antisemitism to spark more ideas around what you can do to fight hate.  

Encourage Antisemitism Education in Your Communities
BINAH, Building Insights to Navigate Antisemitism and Hate, is a digital course developed by ADL in partnership with Everfi, that motivates students to identify as global citizens with respect for all people, regardless of the makeup of their school community. Learn more about BINAH and our other education programs and share these opportunities with schools in your community.

Learn more about fighting antisemitism
ADL has a variety of resources to help you learn more about the root causes of antisemitism and hate and share that information with others.

Join us for Never Is Now: The Summit on Antisemitism and Hate | November 7-9, 2021
This November, thousands of experts, members of the ADL community, business leaders and students will come together virtually for Never Is Now, the world's largest annual summit on antisemitism and hate.  Never Is Now is the best way to learn about and discuss contemporary drivers of antisemitism and hate and find out how you can take action in combating bias of all kinds. Watch sessions from 2020 and sign up for updates to ensure you are among the first to hear event details as they become available.

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