COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Hillel building was vandalized Sept. 21, and the person who went into the building knocked over furniture and shouted antisemitic obscenities, according to a statement released by Penn Hillel.
The incident occurred just a week before President Joe Biden, on Sept. 28, broadened the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to specifically prohibit antisemitism and Islamophobic discrimination in federally funded programs to combat rising rates of antisemitic incidents in the U.S.
2022 had the highest number of antisemitic incidents reported across the country in a single year, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2022, published earlier this year.
The group has been tracking and releasing its annual audit since 1979.
“The reality is that this is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded,” said Meredith Weisel, the regional director for the league’s Washington, D.C. regional office.
Weisel noted that, from what ADL has seen so far in 2023, this year has the potential to be another record year.
The audit categorizes antisemitic incidents as harassment, vandalism or assault and found that 2022 had about a third more incidents than the previous year, with just over 3,500 reported.
The majority of these antisemitic events have taken place in Jewish institutions like synagogues, schools and community centers, according to Weisel.
“The data confirms what Jewish communities have been saying firsthand across the country,” she said. “This corresponds with a notable rise in antisemitic attitudes.”
Antisemitic conversations that had previously taken place on social media platforms are now transitioning into real-world interactions in public spaces, Weisel added.
The largest percentage of reported incidents appear in the form of harassment, according to the audit data, and harassment situations have steadily increased each year for the past four years.
“The concern with this data is that the normalization of harassment has the potential to lead to even more incidents of assault,” Weisel said. Assault saw a 26% increase from 2021.
The data also shows increasing rates of vandalism.
“We are seeing a lot of instances of graffiti, whether it’s a swastika in a school, carved on a desk or outside in a shopping center somewhere,” Weisel said. “We are also seeing a lot of White supremacist propaganda in particular — which includes flyers blaming the Jewish community for a variety of things — that are being left on people’s driveways.”
Vandalism had the most significant increase in 2022, up 51% from the previous year, and according to ADL data, antisemitic incidents are up across the board.
“It’s not just one category or another. … It’s all categories that are seeing upwards trends,” Weisel said. “Another concern is that the numbers are this high and that there are still areas that are underreported.”
There are many reasons why people may not feel comfortable reporting incidents, according to Weisel.
All reported events must be verified to be included in the audit, which may also lower the incident count, according to Marya Slade, the assistant education director of the league’s Washington office.
“This doesn’t mean that the incidents didn’t happen; it just means that we weren’t able to verify what actually took place to be able to include that number within the audit,” Slade said.
Maryland has also seen an increase in antisemitic incidents across all categories.
Between 2021-22, the number of antisemitic incidents nearly doubled in the state; reported vandalism increased by 49%, harassment by 56% and assault by 300%.
As ADL is documenting the upward trend of antisemitic incidents in its data, it is also actively working on a plan to combat the rising rates.
“The bottom line is that we are continuously seeing an increase, and we really can’t remain complacent right now with this,” Weisel said. “There is a combination of things that need to be changed, and this requires a whole-of-society approach, working with our government, working with our educational institutions and just working with the community in general.”