A swastika found at Temple Jacob in Hancock, Michigan, in 2019
A swastika found at Temple Jacob in Hancock, Michigan, in 2019. (Photo courtesy of David Holden)

Anti-Semitic events in the state doubled from 2018 to 2019, although one ongoing event causes difficulties with tracking incidents.

Anti-Semitic acts in Michigan doubled from 2018 to 2019, up to 42 incidents from 21 incidents two years ago, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 audit.

ADL Michigan Director Carolyn Normandin told the Jewish News that as far as she knows, this is the highest year on record for Michigan.

Thirty-two of the reported incidents in Michigan were acts of harassment, which involved one or more Jewish person feeling intimidated by anti-Semitic language or actions. The other 10 events were acts of anti-Semitic vandalism. The ADL did not receive any reports of anti-Semitic assault in Michigan in 2019.

However, 12 of the ADL’s reported incidents represented weekly protests at a synagogue in Ann Arbor that have been going on for over 16 years. The JN reported on the situation — and a lawsuit filed against the protestors late last year — in April. The ADL did not count these protests in its 2018 statewide audit.

Incident reports come to the ADL through phone calls, emails or an online reporting tool on the organization’s website. Each report is then vetted by the ADL — Normandin said this includes talking to people involved and looking for visuals to corroborate statements.

“We believe that data drives decision making and policy, so by having data, real data, we’re able to stand by these statements that we make. They’re factual,” she said.

About 122 total reports were made to ADL Michigan in 2019, Normandin said. Forty-two of those were corroborated anti-Semitic events, but about a third of the total reports were examples of white supremacist propaganda and another roughly 20 percent were found to be other forms of hate. A small handful of the total reports could not be corroborated or were deemed to be false reports.

The audit shows that 18 of last year’s reported events in Michigan occurred at Jewish institutions or schools. Another 10 events happened in public spaces, and 6 took place at non-Jewish schools. The remaining events occurred in business establishments, colleges or universities, a cemetery, a home and online.

Normandin said that the ADL only began receiving reports on the Ann Arbor synagogue protests last summer. This was also when a lawyer began compiling information for a lawsuit against the protestors, filed later in the year.

The number 12 was a stand-in for the protests’ weekly presence, and decided on through multiple conversations with the Ann Arbor synagogue and the Center on Extremism, which helps compile the ADL’s annual audits.
Witness for Peace group protesting outside Beth Israel in Ann Arbor
A Witness for Peace protester readies his signs for the weekly Shabbat protest that started in 2003 outside Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor. ADL Michigan included the protests in their anti-Semitism counter for the first time in 2019. (Alex Sherman)

Normandin said the groups felt that counting the protests 52 times would distort the data, but counting them only once seemed unrepresentative. In the end, they decided counting the protests once a month made the most sense.

The protests were not included in the 2018 audit because they were not reported to the ADL that year, according to Normandin. In the summer of 2019, the organization did receive a report, which was coupled with “a real intensity in the rhetoric that was used at the synagogue,” Normandin said.

The JN covered other high-profile anti-Semitic incidents in Michigan in 2019, including vandalizations at synagogues in Hancock and Grand Rapids and swastikas found in a park in West Bloomfield.

This year’s increase in incidents is part of a nationwide trend. Nationally, incidents rose by 12 percent over the last year to 2,107 — the highest number ever recorded by the ADL since they began tracking anti-Semitic acts in 1979.

In 2015, there were only six incidents of anti-Semitism corroborated by the ADL in Michigan, Normandin said.

“It’s gone up seven-fold in the last five years,” Normandin said. “People are definitely feeling as if they have the authority to do this. They’ve gotten emboldened.”

Normandin said ADL Michigan has already corroborated and approved 14 incidents of anti-Semitism for the 2020 audit, which is about on track with last year.

“The current COVID situation has put the entire country on edge, and there is no doubt that all types of hatred have risen,” she said. “They’re using old anti-Semitic tropes like blaming and scapegoating, particularly to Jews and particularly to Asian-Americans.”

To fight back against anti-Semitism and all types of hate, Normandin recommends people stand up to apathy, demand that educators and public officials stand up to hate and hold digital platforms accountable for preventing online hate.

She said Michiganders can also advocate for stronger hate-crime laws and increased security funding for places of worship.

“We can’t be apathetic about [anti-Semitism],” Normandin said. “We can’t take the approach, ‘Oh we’ve heard this before, we know what this is.’ We need to really, really continue to call it out.”

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