Antisemitism is on the rise in Ohio, and COVID-19 scapegoating may have exacerbated hate against Jewish people – The Columbus Dispatch

Posted By on May 8, 2021

When Justin Shaw heard that Ohio last year experienced the highest number of antisemitic incidents in more than 40 years, he wasn't surprised.

The director of Jewish community relations at the area nonprofit JewishColumbusnoted that incidents have been rising for the past few years, and with COVID-19, it's become easier for people to harass Jewish people online.

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"There's been more propaganda, more rhetoric," said Shaw, whose organization isfocused on philanthropy and supporting community programs. "Zoom-bombings have been more of an issue, and to be honest, Ithink some of it is underreported."

There likely were more incidents, he said, than even appeared in the report releasedby the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last week, which says 43 were disclosedin 2020.

"I would definitely encourage people to report," Shaw said. "The more we have on record, I think the more attention that this issue gets. It bolsters the case."

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In 2019, 25 incidents were reported, marking a 72% increase in antisemitic events in 2020,according to the ADL. The 43 instances of antisemitism in 2020 represent a 52% increase from the state's average of 28 incidents a year, the report shows.

The ADL categorizes antisemitic events as those having conditions consistent with anti-Jewish ideals on the part of the perpetrator or if a "a reasonable person could plausibly conclude that they were being victimized due to their Jewish identity."

James Pasch, regional director with the Anti-Defamation League's Cleveland office, said there isn't one factor causing the rise. It can be attributed to multiple reasons, but the ongoing pandemic is likely part of it.

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"There is certainly no doubt that the rise in coronavirus led to us fightingalmost two viruses at the same time," he said. "The physical virus and then the virus of hate that coincided with that."

Jewish people and other minorities have been blamed for societalills for years, Pasch said.

"Minorities being blamed or scapegoated for the spread of the virus, it is something that has happened during world history before (other) major viruses and pandemics," he said. "It's not surprising that it happened here again."

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The report shows that the incidents consisted of 30 harassment incidents, 12 instances of vandalism and one assault in Ohio.

In November, a Jewish couple in Columbus was verbally harassed while celebrating the presidential election, and a swastika and the words "I love Nazi" were discovered carved into a parked car near Ohio State University in July, the report states.

Prior to the June resignation of former director of the Ohio Department of Health Dr. Amy Acton, who is Jewish, her Bexley home was the target of antisemitic protests. At an April 2020 protest outside of the Statehouse, a protester showed up with an antisemitic sign.

About 63% of the incidents in Ohio happened in northeast Ohio, the report states, with 23%, or 10 incidents, happening in central Ohio.

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The increase in the numberof incidents of antisemitism in Ohio is consistent with national trends, according to the ADL.

In Ohio, Jewish institutions were targeted 167% more than they were in 2019, according to the report, with only three incidents at institutions such as synagogues that year and eightin 2020.

Andwith the pandemic came a new form of harassment known as "Zoom-bombing," which is when people purposefully disrupt meetings or religious services with graphic or hateful images or messages. Shaw said the local community has seen Zoom-bombing during online religious services.

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"It's alarming to know that there's such hate out in the world and hate that's in our own backyard, and all we can do is try and put security measures into place and try and protect ourselves," he said.

JewishColumbus funds efforts to secure Jewish institutions locally, and Shaw has been advising area Jewish leaders on ways to secure their Zoom meetings while still being open and welcoming to those who are truly interested in Judaism.

Despite the increase in hatred, Shaw said Jewish people are resilient and won't let fear stop them.

He and Pasch said education is necessary to prevent more antisemitism in the future. Shaw said people can have discussions with people they know and be an "active agent for change."

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"It's not just education in the classroom;it's also education amongst people we know best," Pasch said.

Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann,executive director of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany, believes that people who commit acts of antisemitism may not know anything about the Jewish people.

"I believe you have to educate people, and you have to reach out with love," he said. "If you educate, if you uplift, if you inspire, then that's the antidote."

Pasch still has hope that things can get better.

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"It's easy to look at the numbers and to be pessimistic and to be troubled and we should be troubled but I would say I've also never been more optimistic about our society's ability to stop this trend," he said.

There are alliances and partnerships happening everyday between individual people and organizations, including between Jewish, Asian and Black-led groups that are fighting together against hate, Pasch said.

"I'm confident that our childrenand our grandchildrenare going to live in a more-tolerant Ohio and a more-tolerant Americathan we live in today just becauseof the work that's being done on the ground," he said.

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Still, Pasch said, antisemitism is a warningand a reason to be vigilant.

"Antisemitism isone of the oldest forms of hate.It's very much a canary in the coalmine," he said. "But it's important to note that what starts with antisemitismdoes spread to other forms of hate.

"We've seen a rise in Asian American and Pacific Islander hate.We've seen the ugly open wound of racism against the Black community and continued vile conspiracy theories about immigration. And with all of that, the evidence points to 2021 as a year where we need to be extra-vigilant about hate and all its forms."


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Antisemitism is on the rise in Ohio, and COVID-19 scapegoating may have exacerbated hate against Jewish people - The Columbus Dispatch

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