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What is the future for Jews in the United States?

During the COVID pandemic, we have heard a lot about following the science, and it made me think about how much Jews follow the “science” when it comes to anti-Semitism. There is no shortage of data, and yet Jews are still apt to respond more to what their kishkes tell them. This is not to suggest that the current perception of anti-Semitism is exaggerated. My point is only that we should take a closer look at the data, and we might learn that reality is different from conventional wisdom and make decisions accordingly.

The most fundamental question is whether it is unsafe to be a Jew in America. What does the data tell us?

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Consider the blaring headlines when the FBI hate-crimes report came out that said 59 percent of all victims of religious hate crimes in 2020 were Jewish. This is a misleading and, in some ways irrelevant figure because most victims (60 percent) are targeted because of race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, not religion. More than one-third of hate crimes are anti-black. The more salient finding was that Jews are 8 percent of all victims of hate crimes, which is still more than three times their share of the U.S. population. (Keep in mind the caveat that not all hate crimes are reported).

A total of 824 Jews were victims. That means 1 out of 7,000 Jews was a victim. The corresponding figure for blacks is roughly 1 out of 8,336 (there were more black victims than Jews but the black population is also much larger).

What also went largely unreported is that the number of Jewish victims was the fewest since 2015 and declined 18 percent from 2019.

The data on religious hate crimes is useful for distinguishing between the threats to Jews and Muslims. While we hear a lot of talk about “Islamophobia,” 124 Muslims (9 percent) were victims of religious hate crimes, which was 1 percent of all hate crimes. While the number of Muslims who were victims spiked to 554 in 2001 (compared to 1,196 Jews), the figure has not even been close to that since then and the 2020 figure was the lowest since 2014, having declined for the sixth straight year.

According to the FBI, one Jew was murdered, 93 were assaulted, and 207 were intimidated. Less than 12 percent were physically attacked; 58 percent of the offenses were vandalism. Attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York, for example, may get a lot of publicity, but those incidents, serious as they are, constitute the exception rather than the typical hate crime.

Since 1999, I believe there have been seven shooting incidents targeting Jews, which resulted in the deaths of 17 Jews (11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh) and one non-Jew.

In surveys, as opposed to police reports, more than 40 percent of Jews have told pollsters that they have experienced anti-Semitism. They are not always asked, however, what they mean, so it’s not clear whether the person has heard a Jewish joke that offended them, whether they were called a name or heard a slur, whether they felt threatened or intimidated, or whether they were assaulted. Pew did ask and found that most Jews who have experienced anti-Semitism reported seeing anti-Jewish graffiti or vandalism. A total of 5 percent reported being physically attacked or threatened; among the Orthodox, that figure was 7 percent.

One attack is too many, and numbers do not minimize the feelings or trauma felt by those who are victimized.

Still, there is a disconnect between what Jews are telling pollsters and the police. Even accounting for underreporting, if 5 percent of Jews were attacked or threatened, the number of crimes against persons in the FBI report should be in the tens of thousands. The actual number? 301.

The ADL reported 2,024 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, a 4 percent decline from 2019, but the third-highest total since 1981 and more than two-and-a-half times the number reported by the FBI. Of those, 31 were assaults, none were fatal. The FBI reported that 58 percent of all offenses were destruction/damage/vandalism. For ADL, the percentage was 37 percent, most of which involved swastikas.

Even based on the ADL data, anti-Semitic incidents are relatively rare and, not surprisingly, more likely to occur in states with large Jewish populations. The five states with the most Jews (New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) account for 57 percent of the incidents, and the rest are spread across the other 42 and the District of Columbia (Hawaii, North Dakota and Wyoming reported 0 in 2020). On average, fewer than six anti-Semitic incidents occur every day.

Does that reflect an epidemic of Jew-hatred?

What about the campus where we hear the universities are bastions of anti-Semitism and some claim Jewish students are not safe?

Given COVID, the numbers were undoubtedly skewed in 2020; nevertheless, they declined for the fourth consecutive year, down 31 percent from 2019. ADL reported zero assaults for the second straight year. There were four in 2018 and zero in 2017.

In 2020, ADL logged a total of 128 incidents, the average since 2011 has been 108. Harassment and vandalism are split 55 percent to 45 percent, respectively. About one-third of all incidents and 72 percent of vandalism involves swastikas. Roughly 22 percent involve the distribution of anti-Semitic white-supremacist propaganda.

Undoubtedly, there is underreporting but think in macro terms. There are more than 4,000 four-year colleges (let’s set aside the thousands of other academic institutions). Most problems tend to occur in a small number of schools in California and the Northeast.

I’ll let readers decide whether 128 incidents spread over roughly an eight-month school year at more than 4,000 colleges merits hysteria over the safety of roughly 200,000 Jewish students.

The problem of anti-Semitism extends beyond what can be quantified. There are legitimate concerns about the normalization of anti-Semitism by professors and politicians, Jew-hatred on the far right and left, and the use of Israel/Zionism as a euphemism for Jews.

The statistics are admittedly imperfect. Like Dr. Anthony Fauci begging Americans to listen to the science, which also changes as we gain more knowledge, it is an often Sisyphean task to convince Jews to make decisions based on data rather than emotion.

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