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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

In New Jersey ‘Hotbed’ for Extremists, Lawmakers Examine Spike in Antisemitic Incidents

Director of Rutgers Hillel told House members that "for the first time in recent memory, Jewish students feel unsafe and unwelcome at their own schools."

House Homeland Security Committee lawmakers held a field hearing Monday in New Jersey to examine domestic extremist threats as the state experienced a 25 percent jump in antisemitic incidents last year.

“In a gruesome antisemitic attack last year here in Teaneck, a man wielding a hammer broke the windows of a pediatrician’s office and dry cleaners,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) said in the council chamber at the Teaneck Municipal Building. “The bloodied man confronted a mother and daughter asking if they were Jewish. This is just one of 70 reported antisemitic incidents here in Bergen County last year – the highest in all of New Jersey.”

Anti-Defamation League Regional Director for New York and New Jersey Scott Richman told the committee in prepared remarks that “New Jersey has been a hotbed for extremist activity and antisemitic incidents over the past few years, as white supremacist and extremist groups have continued to maintain an active presence in the state, using propaganda to communicate their hateful messages more broadly and to recruit new members.”

Nationwide, ADL has recorded a 37 percent increase in antisemitic incidents over the past five years, he noted. Antisemitic incidents rose by 25 percent in New Jersey in 2021, reaching 370 total incidents — the highest number of antisemitic incidents ever recorded by ADL in New Jersey and the second-highest number recorded in any state across the country last year, with New Jersey second only to New York.

“According to the data, New Jersey experienced increases in antisemitic incidents across all three main categories compiled by ADL: harassment (252 incidents; 34% increase from 2020), vandalism (112 incidents; 7% increase from 2020) and assault (6 incidents; 150% increase from 2020),” Richman said. “Incidents took place in public areas (123), in non-Jewish K-12 schools (82), at Jewish institutions (44), at private residences (4), at business establishments (35), and online (29).”

Along with the 70 reported incidents in Bergen County, Ocean County had 44 incidents, Mercer County had 39 incidents, Middlesex County had 31 incidents, and Union County had 30 incidents.

“Antisemitic attacks have continued in 2022, and the Jewish community in Lakewood, New Jersey, has been particularly vulnerable,” Richman continued. “In January 2022, for example, a snowplow driver posted a video to his Facebook page appearing to show his plow intentionally targeting two Orthodox Jewish men. Alongside his video post, the driver wrote, ‘This one’s for you JC.’ A few months later, in April 2022, multiple victims were hospitalized following a violent crime spree in nearby Jackson, New Jersey, involving a carjacking, stabbing, and two pedestrians being struck by the stolen vehicle. Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin approved a terrorism charge in this case as prosecutor Bradley Billhimer stated these attacks were ‘intended to terrorize the Jewish community in Lakewood and Jackson.'”

Rabbi Esther Reed, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, told lawmakers in prepared remarks that “for the first time in recent memory, Jewish students feel unsafe and unwelcome at their own schools.”

Hillel International, a 99-year-old Jewish student organization present on more than 850 campuses, tracked 561 incidents of hate against Jewish students last year, Reed said, adding that was a 15 percent increase from the previous year and more than triple the number of incidents recorded four years ago.

“This hatred comes in the form of graffiti, physical assault, social media rhetoric, and the social exclusion of Jewish students,” she said. At Rutgers-New Brunswick, Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi “was egged two years in a row while students were participating in the solemn, 24-hour memorial practice of reading aloud names of Holocaust victims on Holocaust Memorial Day, as well as on the major Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana, one week ago today.”

“The tires of Jewish students’ cars were slashed. White supremacist groups posted antisemitic recruitment flyers,” she added. “My student, Ben, who wears a kippah, or yarmulke, on his head, was afraid to go to his internship in Jersey City the day a Kosher grocery store there was shot up.”

Reed stressed that “nobody wants Rutgers to be the next headline.”

“Nobody wants Rutgers to be home to the next tragedy like the ones our community faced at the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, the shooting in Poway, or the hostage-taking in the Colleyville synagogue in Texas,” she said. “We need your help to keep us out of the headlines.”

With assistance from the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, Rutgers Hillel installed bollards in front of their building to stop vehicle ramming attacks and installed new fencing at the back of the facility to help stop intruders. “We don’t want our institutions and facilities to be ringed with security devices but, sadly, they have to be,” Reed said.

American Jewish Committee U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism Holly Huffnagle told lawmakers that while “New Jersey is not alone” as antisemitic incidents rise across the country, the state is “facing a growing threat of antisemitism and extremism.”

“In the past year alone, in New Jersey, the Katz JCC reported a bomb threat in Cherry Hill, NJ in March; in April, a Nazi swastika was graffitied outside of a cemetery in Haddonfield, eggs were thrown and Jewish students were harassed following a proPalestine rally at Rutgers University, and an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed by a man making antisemitic remarks; in July, a Nazi swastika and ‘Kill Jews’ graffiti were discovered on a Lakewood walking path; the far-right, white supremacist Goyim Defense League distributed antisemitic flyers in Lindenwold and Brigantine in August; and, just a few days ago, in September, eggs were again thrown at the Jewish fraternity at Rutgers University during Jewish New Year,” she said. “There has been a 25 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the state in 2021, and it is on track to increase again in 2022.”

Huffnagle said that while “no reason justifies antisemitism,” there are “several factors happening concurrently contributing to the current rise” including rising economic uncertainty, waning confidence in government and in democracy with “antisemitism on full display in anti-government movements,” “deepening polarization over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” especially seen on college campuses, “the fading legacy of the Holocaust, combined with Holocaust denial and distortion” including 13 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds in New Jersey believing that Jews caused the Holocaust, the increased spread of propaganda and disinformation online, and “an increased emphasis on race and national identity.”

“On the far-right, the number of white nationalist and supremacist groups in the U.S. has increased by 55 percent between 2015 and 2019,” she said. “On the opposite end of the spectrum, on the far-left, Jews are labeled as ‘white’ and even ‘white supremacists.’ The irony is real white supremacists benefit from these anti-Jewish attacks.”

Huffnagle also cited in her prepared remarks “increasing levels of ignorance about what antisemitism is and what it looks like” to explain in part “how antisemitism is growing and spreading unnoticed.”

“Not only do one-third of Americans not know what antisemitism is, the majority who do see antisemitism solely as a hatred,” she said. “We often hear the phrase, ‘I am not antisemitic. I don’t hate Jews. Jews have too much power and they control the media. But I don’t hate them.’ This lack of knowledge that antisemitism is more than a hatred but also a certain perception about Jews — a conspiracy about Jews — was the main issue in mislabeling the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, this past January.”

“Conspiracy is the belief that there is someone or something in power who is exploiting humanity or controlling world events,” Huffnagle continued. “To the antisemite, Jews are this ‘someone’ in power; for example, the statements ‘Jews control the banks’ and ‘Jews control the government’ were phrases spoken by the perpetrator in Colleyville. That is why he chose a synagogue — the one closest to the location where Aafia Siddiqui was held — for the site of this attack. But the FBI originally erroneously said the incident was ‘not related to the Jewish community.’ The record was corrected, but numerous news outlets continued to run the original line.”

Richman said ADL has been “increasingly concerned about anti-government extremist activity across the country and in New Jersey, including from groups like the Oath Keepers.”

“According to the recently leaked Oath Keepers membership list reviewed by ADL’s Center on Extremism, 588 15 individuals had ties to New Jersey, including 1 elected official, 12 members of law enforcement, 2 active military, and 4 first responders,” he said.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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