Antisemitism reportedly spikes and US Jews face violent threats amid climate of fear over Israel-Hamas war


((JEWISH REVIEW)) – A top lawyer in Illinois’ state government told a Jewish person, “Hitler should have eradicated all of you.” An Israeli student was assaulted at Columbia University. And Jewish schools and synagogues in at least three different states have been subjected to violent threats.

Those are a few incidents that have occurred during what, according to the Anti-Defamation League, is a 21% spike in antisemitic activity in the United States since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing and wounding thousands. Israel’s ensuing war on the terror group in Gaza has killed thousands and has sparked both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel activity across the globe. 

That reported increase in antisemitism has put Jewish communities — and the U.S. government — on guard as the war in Gaza and Israel dominates the headlines, even as Jewish security agencies have not warned of any credible threats of violence. Hillel International is providing new funding for armed guards on college campuses, and other Jewish institutions are also bolstering security. Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department was monitoring an increase in reported threats to Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.

“What we knew even before the massacre that occurred on October 7 is that whenever there is conflict in that region we tend to see antisemitic incidents spike in this country, and in other countries as well,” Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The ADL has tracked a total of 193 incidents it classifies as antisemitic in the period following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, an increase of more than 20% from the same time period last year, although reports of antisemitism are still coming in. Such incidents cover a wide range of activities and do not include participation in pro-Palestinian rallies. But Segal said any incident that “ascribes blame to the entire Jewish community for what is happening in Israel” would be counted.

The period after the Oct. 7 invasion has also seen attacks and threats targeting Muslims in the United States, including the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy in the Chicago area.

Amid all of this, nonprofits focused on Jewish security have, so far, not sounded the alarm. One such organization in New York, the Community Security Initiative, has advised Jewish institutions to “keep calm and carry on,” according to The New York Times. Jewish security agencies also said two weeks ago they were not aware of any credible threats ahead of what Jews feared was a Hamas-inspired day of violence on Oct. 13. 

“People are calling the NYPD bomb squad because they got a package from Gaza that turns out it’s olive oil,” said Mitch Silber, director of the Community Security Initiative and a former intelligence official for the New York Police Department. He added that Hamas has no known formal capacity in the United States.

“It feels like pure panic mode the community is in, and part of our job is to do a little anxiety alleviation,” Silber said.

The Secure Community Network, a nationwide security organization for Jewish institutions that operates a “command center” in Chicago, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

And some high-profile suspicipons of antisemitism have not necessarily borne out. In the moments after the murder of a young Detroit synagogue president was reported, rumors swirled that the crime was linked to the Israel-Hamas war. But police say they have not seen any sign of antisemitism so far in their investigation. 

Yet there has indeed been a string of violent incidents and threats against Jews in cities across the country. In New York City, police say a man told a woman that he was punching her because she was Jewish. On Oct. 17, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the FBI announced it had arrested a man who had sent a threatening email to an area synagogue in which he vowed “public execution”; the threat came weeks after a rash of other emailed and phoned threats to synagogues across the country. That same day, police in Miami Beach, Florida, arrested a homeless man who approached a local Jewish day school security guard, said, “I’m with Hamas,” and falsely claimed he was carrying explosives.

Other threats against Jews this month have come from working professionals. A professor at the University of California, Davis posted online that “all these zionist journalists who spread propaganda and misinformation” could be targeted, and concluded the post with machete, ax and bloodrop emojis. The university’s president announced Thursday that the school had placed the professor under investigation, and her name is no longer listed on the faculty page.

And the Illinois comptroller’s office fired one of its legal counsels Thursday after the attorney was found to have left threatening comments on the anonymous Instagram page of a lawyer who identified as Jewish, including “Hitler should have eradicated all of you” and “all you Zionists will pay,” according to reports. 

The attorney, Sarah Chowdhury, also served as president of the South Asian Bar Association; the legal group announced it had terminated her as well and apologized “for any harm” caused by her remarks.

Beyond threats of violence, American Jews have contended with antisemitic graffiti and vandalism over the past two weeks. Some of these incidents have occurred on university campuses. At Cal Poly Humboldt, in northern California, two days after the attacks, graffiti reading “Free Palestine F**k Israel” was found on a sukkah set up by the university’s Chabad-Lubavitch center. Graffiti reading “The Jews R Nazis” was also found next to a Jewish fraternity at the University of Pennsylvania on Oct. 20, according to the campus newspaper.

A spokesperson for Hillel International, the umbrella organization for Jewish life on campus, told (JEWISH REVIEW) last week it was providing unrestricted “emergency grants” to all its chapters, including to address security concerns and expanding staff “in this moment of crisis.”

Other Jewish institutions have been targeted as well. The day after the Humboldt incident, a synagogue in Fresno, California, had its windows smashed by a perpetrator who also left a note reading, “All Jewish businesses will be targeted.” A suspect has been taken into custody and charged with a hate crime, reported J. the Jewish News of Northern California.