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Arizona saw a rise in antisemitic and hate incidents in 2021

Pandemic conspiracy theories, Middle East conflict fueled surge, researchers say

Antisemitic and hate incidents in Arizona this year saw a 26% increase from 2020 and a 41% increase from 2019, according to a year-end report by the Arizona chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.

The incidents spanned across the state from Tucson, where a man spray painted a swastika and an antisemitic slur on a synagogue, to places like Bullhead City, where white supremacist group Patriot Front was found to have posted propaganda, similar to what they often do on college campuses in the Valley.

Last year saw historic highs for antisemitic incidents in the United States, with 2020 marking the third highest yearly total on record, according to the ADL.

Conspiracy theories centered around COVID-19 have created a new challenge for researchers on extremism and those, such as the ADL, combating extremist ideologies, since many have begun to turn to sites or speakers who espouse white supremacist thinking.

Such conspiracy theories, such as the “Great Reset,” have been gaining expanded popularity amid the pandemic and spurring antisemitic incidents across the nation. Some of this can be seen in incidents in Arizona.

One flyer seen in the West Valley, posted by the Phoenix-based white supremacist group the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nations, calls their website “news you can use” on a poster that is adorned with crosses and swastikas. The leader of the organization also cited disputes over Critical Race Theory as a reason for targeting the areas with the white supremacist propaganda.

The recent conflict between Israel and Palestine this year also spurred challenges for members of Arizona’s Jewish community.

During the first two weeks of the conflict in May, ADL recorded a 75% increase in antisemitic incidents nationwide and more than 17,000 tweets using a variation of the phrase “Hitler was right.” Approximately 60% of American Jews witnessed antisemitism during this period of time, ADL reported.

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A recent report by the FBI also highlighted that Jewish religious centers are the highest target for hate crimes. More than half of the religiously motivated hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2020 were anti-Jewish hate crimes.

“Jews make up about 2% of the country’s population but they make up to 60% of the country’s (anti-religious) hate crimes,” Marc A. Krell, Associate Director for Arizona’s ADL chapter told Arizona Mirror. In Arizona, approximately 1.5% of the state is Jewish.

Arizona has continued to make headlines for antisemitism for a number of reasons, such as a local woman claiming the Jewish people are profiting off the COVID vaccine and Mesa Republican Kelly Townsend likening vaccines to the Holocaust while tweeting out a swastika made of needles.

The Holocaust has become a hot topic for the far-right, with many comparing COVID vaccinations to the genocide, leading the ADL to conduct a program with 17 other Jewish organizations denouncing the comparisons.

“It exploits the trauma of survivors and the memory of victims for political reasons,” Krell said.

But for Krell it is not all bad news lately.

“If we can create the conditions on the ground, which I know we are doing, this will give us an opportunity to make 2022 to be a year of opportunity instead of a year of hate,” Krell said.

In its year-end report, the Arizona chapter of the ADL reported that more than 54,000 students have been reached by their No Place for Hate initiative, a program that teaches anti-bullying, inclusion and talks about the topics of bias.

The K-12 program is currently in 73 schools and is initiated by the students who pledge to make their schools hate-free. The program is available to youth programs to participate in as well; currently Arizona’s ADL No Place for Hate program has a basketball and soccer team that have joined. It’s tailored to each program’s individual problems relating to hate, Krell said.

“We are always working on the ground to make sure we address as much proactively as well, but we respond as well when we need to,” Krell said.

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After the passage of a new law this year to require schools to teach students about the Holocaust, Krell said that they’ve also been working with the Arizona Department of Education to help include more educators in their Echos and Reflections program, which helps educators teach about the Holocaust.

The organization also had more than 120 school leaders participate in a program that helps educate school faculty and administrators on how to spot radicalization and how youth can be lured by online radicalization methods.

The Poway synagogue shooter who espoused antisemitic beliefs and killed one and injured three others in California in 2019, including an eight-year-old, had a “rapid online radicalization,” according to his lawyers.

For those in the community Krell urges them to stay vigilant and report any incidents of hate they see to the ADL, educate others about the programs ADL offers and speak with their representatives about issues of hate in your community.

“Be a voice of reason, be a voice of compassion,” Krell said.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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