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Anti-Semitic Incidents Increasing, ADL Says


A man who allegedly killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue has been charged. And he's being investigated for hate crimes. The alleged shooter had numerous posts on social media trafficking in conspiracy theories about prominent Jewish figures. And according to law enforcement, he shouted anti-Semitic slurs when he opened fire on the congregation. And while this might be the deadliest attack on a Jewish target, it is not the only recent one. According to our next guest, anti-Semitic attacks have spiked over the past two years. George Selim is senior vice president for programs with the Anti-Defamation League. Thank you so much for joining us in the studio today.

GEORGE SELIM: Good morning, Lulu. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, my condolences.

SELIM: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is an incredibly painful moment, I know, for the community. Can you tell me your thoughts about what happened?

SELIM: Yeah. And just before I do that, I just want to express the most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the Jewish community, not just in the greater Pittsburgh area but really across the globe that is collectively mourning and suffering this morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course - so what is your reaction to this?

SELIM: So what we see here is really the result of a very tragic and unfortunate pattern and trend of the rise of extremism and anti-Semitism over the past several years. In calendar year 2017, we saw the largest single increase of anti-Semitic incidents in recent times. We saw nearly a 60 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 over the previous year, 2016. In addition, we saw nearly a 90 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 classrooms in schools across the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we get to why you think this is happening, when you say anti-Semitic incidents, what are you discussing?

SELIM: When we're talking about an anti-Semitic incident at a school, in a classroom, in a K-12, it's everything from the scrawling of a swastika on a bathroom wall to instances in - most recently in a Western state, where a student made very callous and cold references related to the death of Jews in the Holocaust as part of a Valentine's Day project. And so it really takes all different shapes and forms. Just three weeks ago here in Northern Virginia, I was at the Jewish Community Center in Fairfax where 19 swastikas were spray-painted on the side of, really, a community center where people come to exercise and hold community-based events. So it really takes all forms.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think this is happening now?

SELIM: I think a couple things. In recent years, there has been a normalization of hate and extremism both online and offline. The normalization of rhetoric and - from the highest levels of retweets of individuals like David Duke, from posts and restatements that are associated with white nationalists in this country - has almost become normal or part of a global discourse. In addition to that, the political divide in this country has become so toxic and, when combined with the normalization of this type of hate speech and anti-Semitism, has really led to a volatile atmosphere that we've seen play out just in the past week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Also this week, a bomb was delivered to the home of George Soros, who is also Jewish. We've seen a lot of trafficking of conspiracy theories about him on mainstream conservative TV news, like Fox, even.

SELIM: Correct - and, in fact, ADL recently released some reporting that goes back and tracks a lot of the conspiracy theories. And they have their roots in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, as well. This is something that we've unfortunately seen play out both in the offline and online spaces. Some of the most vitriolic anti-Semitic attacks against Soros and others have really come out in the past year or two. And it's something that the ADL will remain constant and vigilant in combating on a day in and day out basis.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should also say this shooter was also trafficking in these conspiracy theories. He apparently believed that the caravan coming from Central America, which has been repeatedly discussed by the president and others, was being sponsored by Jewish organizations.

SELIM: Correct. One of the Jewish organizations that was mentioned in some of his posts was HIAS, an organization that does tremendous work on refugees and asylees, as well as the Anti-Defamation League. I mean, there were several posts and comments in his open-source social media. There were many victims in this case that were in Pittsburgh and beyond. And it's up to us as a global community of citizens and organizations to remain vigilant and push back against all forms of anti-Semitism, discrimination and bigotry. And we're committed to doing so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: George Selim, senior vice president for programs of the Anti-Defamation League, thank you so much for coming in.

SELIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.