Who Is Behind Anti-Semitic Attacks in the U.S.?

Johanna Markind

Johanna Markind

Johanna Markind is an attorney who writes about anti-Semitism, radical Islam, and criminal law.

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Amid increasing reports of attacks against Jews and their institutions in the United States, a crucial question remains unanswered–who are the perpetrators of these hate crimes? And what can be done to stop them?

In late February 2017, someone fired a gunshot into an Indiana synagogue. The same month, a Texas preschool teacher was fired for anti-Semitic social media posts, including a tweet encouraging followers to “kill some Jews.” Three times between December 2, 2016, and late March 2017, rocks were thrown into a Philadelphia synagogue, shattering its stained-glass windows.

American Jews and their institutions have been targeted by a recent wave of frequently anonymous assaults and harassment, leaving mostly unanswered the question: who is committing anti-Semitic hate crimes?

Circumstantial evidence suggests the main perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes come from two separate sources: right-wing groups such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and Muslims and/or Arabs. Unfortunately, little information has been systematically collected on the subject.

Let’s start with what we do know: There is no doubt that the number of reported anti-Semitic crimes has risen sharply in the last couple of years. The FBI reported that anti-Semitic hate crimes jumped nine percent from 2014 to 2015. Anecdotal evidence indicates that they increased even more in 2016. According to the FBI, there were 664 anti-Semitic hate crime incidents resulting in 695 offenses in 2015, compared to 609 incidents resulting in 635 offenses in 2014. Aggravated assaults increased from four to 22. During the same period, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses increased from 912 to 941, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

In the first five months of 2016, the ADL’s New England office received almost as many reports of anti-Semitic incidents as it received for the region in all of 2015: 56 just in January-May 2016, compared to 61 for all of 2015. By the end of 2016, the New York Police Department reported that there had been a 115 percent increase in bias crimes following Election Day, “with Jews being targeted in 24 of the 43 incidents during that nearly month-long period.” That’s three times as many anti-Semitic incidents as were reported for November 2015.

Surprisingly little is known about who commits the vast majority of these acts. The ADL ignored this writer’s repeated inquiries on the subject; it either has no data or doesn’t want to publicize what it knows.

FBI crime reports provide limited information. Of offenders who committed the 635 anti-Semitic hate crime offenses in 2014, some information was available on the race of 353 and the ethnicity of 16; no information was available on the other 282. Of offenders who committed the 695 anti-Semitic hate crime offenses in 2015, some information was available on the race of 373 and the ethnicity of 82; there was no information on those who committed the other 322 offenses. The breakdown was as follows:


Race 2014 2015
White 87 121
Black 20 31
Asian 4 2
Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 1 0
Multi-race 10 8
Unknown race 231 211
Hispanic 0 0
Non-Hispanic 11 13
Multiple ethnicities 0 1
Unknown ethnicity 5 68
Unknown offender 282 322


The largest known perpetrator group for both years was white Americans, but they still only accounted for 14 percent of the total in 2014 and 17 percent in 2015. Who committed the other offenses?

In short, we don’t know. The FBI has no information about the race of offenders in 513 of the 635 crimes in 2014, or 81 percent of the offenses. Records are slightly better for 2015, but even so, the FBI is missing information about offenders’ race in 533 of 695 crimes, or 77 percent of the total. It has no information about offenders’ ethnicity in 97.5 percent of anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2014 and 88 percent in 2015.

Many in the media and elsewhere assume anti-Semitic hate crimes are primarily the work of groups variously labeled as white-supremacists, white-nationalists, or the “alt-right.” That may be true, but the evidence for it covers only a small proportion of cases. Consider the December 30, 2016 vandalism incident in Chandler, Arizona, in which a menorah was twisted into a swastika. While stopping short of blaming the incident on white-supremacists, the Washington Post noted (correctly) that the swastika is “the symbol of the Nazi party that carried out the murder of 6 million Jews and of current-day hate groups.” But it turned out that the swastika was created by a black man named Clive Jamar Wilson and three unidentified minors.

It is particularly disturbing that anti-Semitism appears to be relatively common in the American Muslim community, including among its leaders. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center’s associate imam Abdul-Malik Merchant, appointed in August 2016, issued an apology to the Jewish community for having shared anti-Semitic posts on social media while he was studying in Saudi Arabia. Hamza Yusuf (born Mark Hanson), an American convert to Islam and co-founder of Zaytuna College, a Muslim institution of higher learning in Berkeley, California, admitted in 2007 that he was “infected by that virus [i.e., anti-Semitism] for a period of time” after spending ten years living in the Arab world.

Muslim expression of anti-Semitic views has become especially common on American college campuses. Much of congressional representative and Democratic National Committee deputy chair Keith Ellison’s anti-Semitic history dates from his student days, though he has become more circumspect since he first ran for Congress in 2006. Dana Swaies, a student at Middle State Tennessee University and former Muslim Student Association organizer, posted a number of anti-Semitic tweets between 2012-2014, including an October 2013 Arabic-language tweet that translates, “May Allah annihilate the Jewish dogs.” In June 2014, Mayzer Muhammad, then-undergraduate president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, tweeted, “yahood [Jews] will get what coming for them [sic].” When this was exposed, Muhammad dismissed criticism of his comment as an “Islamophobic smear campaign.”

Muslim expression of anti-Semitic views has become especially common on American college campuses.

There is anecdotal evidence that many recent anti-Semitic hate crimes were committed by Muslims and/or Arabs. A recently-published study by the Community Security Service reviewed 104 serious attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions from 1969-2016, and concluded that “white supremacist and radical Islamist ideologies were a central influencing factor” in “incidents where motivation can be ascertained.”

Planned, attempted, or executed anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims include the planned assault on a Tucson Jewish Community Center foiled by the June 2016 arrest of Mahin Khan; the attempted bombing of a Miami synagogue in April 2016 by a Muslim convert; a November 2015 attack in New York City by a Muslim cab driver on his Jewish passenger; the August 2014 assault by Abdel Aziz Jalil on a Jewish Temple University student who had exchanged words with activists at a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) display table; the March 2010 assault by Muslim SJP leader and UC-Berkeley student Husam Zakharia on a Jewish student; the May 2009 attempted bombing of a Bronx synagogue by four Muslim men; Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a.k.a. Carlos Bledsoe’s May 2009 shooting attack on the home of a Little Rock rabbi followed days later by an attempted Molotov-cocktail attack on what he believed was a rabbi’s house in Nashville; the July 2006 attack by a Muslim on Seattle’s Jewish Federation in which one woman was killed and five wounded; and a 2005 plot by four Muslims to attack synagogues and other targets in the Los Angeles area.

To these must be added the September 2014 drive-by BB gun shooting at a Baltimore yeshiva by a man “possibly of Middle Eastern descent”; Algeria-native Ahmed Ferhani’s and Morocco-native Mohamed Mamdouh’s attempt to blow up a Manhattan synagogue in May 2011; and the January 2010 threat by a Palestinian on a Miami-Detroit flight to “kill all the Jews.”

Contrary to assumptions, anti-Semitic attacks by Arabs or Muslims are not new. In 2000, Arabs targeted two synagogues in arson attacks; one gutted a Syracuse synagogue, the other was an unsuccessful attempt to firebomb a synagogue in Riverdale, New York. In 1997, an Arab man plotted to bomb a New York City subway line “because there are a lot of Jews that ride that train.”

Anecdotal evidence also suggests it is not uncommon for Muslims or Arabs to employ Nazi motifs like swastika graffiti or, in Europe at least, Hitler salutes. According to British Jewish community official Dave Rich, “Those British Muslims who verbally abuse British Jews on the street are more likely to shout ‘Heil Hitler’ than ‘allahu akbar.’” Swastika graffiti has also been correlated with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, as at UC Davis in February 2015 and at Purdue and the University of Indiana in March 2016.

Swastika graffiti has been correlated with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

The problem of Arab/Muslim anti-Semitic violence is especially prominent in Europe. According to a 2015 review by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), “Statistics for France and Great Britain from the last decade show that antisemitic perpetrators have been disproportionately of Muslim origin.” Conservative estimates for Britain, where Muslims are roughly five percent of the population, indicate they commit 20-30 percent of anti-Semitic hate crimes. In France, where eight percent of the population is Muslim, at least 30 percent of anti-Semitic incidents are perpetrated by Muslims and/or Arabs, and “adding the number of non-identified perpetrators, the actual percentage can be estimated to be above 50 percent,” according to ISGAP. A 2015 British parliamentary report noted that a “high proportion of [anti-Semitic] cases involved someone from a Muslim background.”

European anti-Semitic incidents include several homicides, like the February 2015 murder of two at a Danish synagogue, the murder of four in the January 2015 Hyper Cacher massacre days after the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the 2012 murder of four (a teacher and three children aged three to eight) at a Jewish day-school in Toulouse, and the horrific 2006 torture-murder of Ilan Halimi by a gang of 28 Muslims known as “the barbarians,” of whom 27 were ultimately convicted. “Lesser” crimes include an August 2016 stabbing attack in Strasbourg, November 2015 stabbing attacks in Marseille and Milan, a January 2015 mace attack on a 13-year-old in Paris, and a New Year’s Eve 2015 assault and battery in Berlin. All of this has raised doubts about the continuing viability of Europe’s Jewish communities. In April 2016, the congressional U.S. Helsinki Commission heard testimony that “the situation on the ground has become dire, the challenge to the Jewish communities has become nothing less than existential.”

Unfortunately, it appears that American authorities have until now ignored this growing problem. The FBI’s 2015 hate crimes report added a new ethnic group to its list of victims – namely, Arabs. But while the only other ethnic group describing victims (Hispanics) is also listed in the descriptions of offenders, Arab ethnicity is not listed or identified on the offender list.

In a November 15, 2016, email, FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer wrote that Arabs are not among the “minimum race and ethnicity categories captured under the Office of Management and Budget mandate” and “when the anti-Arab bias motivation was added to the hate crime data collection, it was a request submitted to the UCR Program from several advocacy groups. This request only pertained to the bias motivation categories, not the offender data.” In other words, no one asked the FBI to identify Arab offenders, just Arab victims.

The FBI’s own reporting guidelines explain why identifying an offender’s race and ethnicity, as well as religion, sexual orientation, etc., is relevant. To determine whether a crime is motivated by hate, guideline § 2.2 says it is important to ascertain whether “The offender and the victim were of a different race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, and/or gender identity.” It’s also helpful to know whether “a historically-established animosity existed between the victim’s and the offender’s groups.”

So, for example, to determine whether a victim was targeted because they were Jewish, it would be helpful to know whether the perpetrator was a white member of the Aryan Brotherhood or an Arab who hates Jews. It would be extremely helpful if the FBI and other law enforcement authorities would record whether hate crime perpetrators and not just victims are Arab. For that matter, why not add all victim categories to perpetrator/offender categories such as religion and sexual preference?

Fischer explained the purpose of identifying offender characteristics: “Providing the offender race and ethnicity data allows the UCR Hate Crime Program to provide more granular data about the offenders committing these types of crimes. It also helps our participating agencies determine where they need to focus their resources.”

Is there a problem with anti-Semitic violence in Arab-American and Muslim communities? If so, it needs to be acknowledged and addressed. We have strong evidence from Europe that anti-Semitism is a serious problem in these communities, and this hatred often leads to acts of violence. The situation in Europe has deteriorated to a far greater extent than in the U.S., but America should not consider itself immune. The American Jewish community needs concrete information on who is committing anti-Semitic hate crimes in the U.S. in order for proper action to be taken.

Anti-Semitism is a very serious disease, and in order to cure it, it is critically important to know the cause.

Banner Photo: CNN / YouTube