These two notes were left on a house neighboring Chabad of Oak Park in February. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Yisroel Levine

ADL audit notes spike in anti-Semitism since 2016


Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in America since the beginning of last year, nearly doubling in the first quarter of 2017, according to a national report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The United States saw a 34 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, with an additional 86 percent increase in the first three months of this year, according to the ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew hatred.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

 

In addition to the national report, the ADL released a companion report for incidents in its Pacific Southwest region, which includes Los Angeles. In California, the audit noted 211 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015.

The reports come on the heels of a pair of polls conducted by the ADL, published earlier this month, that found 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

Amanda Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director for the ADL, noted a number of alarming trends in the audit, some of which she said likely are tied to the national political environment and the November election of President Donald Trump.

“We believe the 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere may have played a role in some of the increase,” she told the Journal.

Though the reports provide only a rough assessment of anti-Semitic acts, Susskind pointed to some causes for concern, namely, the proliferation of swastikas as a hate symbol and, among youth, “a feeling of freedom to express themselves verbally in hateful ways.”

The regional audit notes a Riverside County elementary school vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “Burn Jews,” and an Indio high school student who wore a Nazi uniform to high school for Halloween.

Susskind said the president’s failure to appropriately check his supporters who express virulently anti-Semitic views helped create a permissive atmosphere for hateful speech.

“I have no doubt that it trickled down into the mainstream and ultimately into the school yards and playgrounds where kids are starting to become more loose-lipped,” Susskind said.

Nationally, the ADL reported “a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”

“Seeing [anti-Semitism] in K-12 is pretty disturbing,” Susskind said. “Not that it’s not disturbing in college, but it’s newly disturbing to us this year.”

As for the swastikas, she said, “I hope it’s an anomaly.”

She noted an “extraordinarily large” number of incidents where swastikas were etched into cars, presumably owned by Jews. The regional report makes note of swastikas scratched into cars in Jewish neighborhoods including Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills.

The national audit makes particular note of an uptick in anti-Semitic activity since the presidential election. Of the 1,266 acts noted in the report “targeting Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2016, almost 30 percent of them occurred in November and December.

During the first three months of 2017, there were 541 incidents, far more than the 291 reported during the same time period the previous year. The 2017 count includes a national wave of phony bomb threats against Jewish institutions.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016 and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

Susskind was careful to note that the incidents in the audit represent only those reported to the ADL or that ADL staffers read about and followed up on, and also that the information was anecdotal rather than scientific.

Moreover, she said there are other arenas where anti-Semitism is entrenched that are not included in the reports.

Susskind said the ADL continues to monitor cyberhate, for instance, which has not abated since the election. She said haters are emboldened when the White House fails to quickly and strongly condemn acts of anti-Semitism.

“There’s a failure of leadership consistently, and in that vacuum, hate rushes in,” she said.

A view of Donaldson-Brown Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Over 100 leaflets with hand-drawn swastikas left at Virginia Tech Chabad


More than 100 leaflets with hand-drawn swastikas were found dropped on the front yard of the Chabad Jewish student center at Virginia Tech.

The leaflets were discovered at the student center located across the street from the Blacksburg university on Saturday afternoon by the Chabad’s center co-director, Rabbi Zvi Yaakov Zwiebel.

The incident occurred a day after the Jewish student center announced that Chabad was hosting the renowned Holocaust survivor Rabbi Nissen Mangel for a lecture at Virginia Tech in April. Zwiebel told local media he believes the two are related.

The lecture program is to honor Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who was among the 32 people killed in the 2007 shootings on campus. Librescu blocked the door of his classroom so students could escape through the windows.

In a statement issued after the incident, Zwiebel called the appearance of the leaflets a “disgusting act of hate.” The rabbi said he filed an incident report with the Blacksburg Police Department, which he said was “extremely helpful and professional in their response.”

“This incident is all the more surprising seeing as it is the first such act since Chabad on Campus at Virginia Tech was opened more than eight years ago,” Zwiebel said in the statement. “We appreciate Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands, who quickly tweeted his support for the Jewish community, and we are in touch with the administration as they proactively respond to this incident.”

Sands said in his tweet, “The propagators of hate may be among us, but they are not welcome in our community.”

A rally on campus in support of the Virginia Tech Jewish community is scheduled for Monday evening.

Dorm at NJ university vandalized with swastikas


A residence hall at Rowan University in southern New Jersey was vandalized with swastikas and other anti-Semitic grafitti.

The Nazi symbols were discovered Thursday and reported to the university administration.

The dean of students, Richard Jones, condemned the graffiti in an email Sunday to students, and wrote that police are investigating the incident.

“It is important to clearly state that the sort of bias and hate that this type of incident represents are completely inconsistent with Rowan’s values,” he wrote. “Members of our community should be safe from hate in all areas of the campus, from the residence halls to the classrooms.”

Rabbi Hersh Loschak, the Chabad rabbi at Rowan, wrote in a statement that he was shocked, especially as he has found the university’s student body to be especially tolerant and accepting.

“We refuse to be intimidated or frightened,” Loschak wrote Tuesday. “In fact, we will use this incident as a motivation to increase the light and expand our programming for Jewish students on campus.”

Rowan, a state university located less than 25 miles from Philadelphia, has some 12,000 undergraduate students. Slightly more than one-third of the students live on campus.

Letters to the editor: Iran Deal, David Azouly, swastikas in D.C. and more


Not a Gamblin’ Man

I disagree with Rob Eshman’s opening paragraph, wherein he states that “nobody knows” what the end result will be with the Iranian deal (“The Iran Deal Gamble,” July 17). Anyone who considers the current atmosphere with Iran, and the basic points of the agreement, should have no problem realizing that if the agreement is ratified, worldwide terrorism will increase significantly. Imagine what Iran, the greatest supporter of worldwide terrorism today, can do with $100 billion (while continuing the “Death to America and Israel” tirades). Anyone who believes that Iran will honor a written agreement is very naive (see Neville Chamberlain). 

I am afraid that my hopes and prayers that my 7-year-old granddaughter will live a long, happy and safe life will be in great jeopardy if the agreement is ratified.

Michael Gesas, Beverly Hills

I have read several of Eshman’s columns relating to support of President Barack Obama from the Jewish community. My sincere question is, how can Americans who call themselves Jewish support a president who is doing all he can do to make deals with Iran, a country hostile to the U.S. and particularly to Israel? His recent “deal” is not supported by the prime minister of Israel and is “a historic mistake.” The goal of any radical Muslim community is the annihilation of all Jews and unbelievers in this world. What should we be thinking with regard to the Jewish people and their support of Israel in general? Do American Jews even consider Israel worth saving? 

Bob Crisell, Fallbrook

Are Democrats Destroying Israel?

David Suissa’s piece “Iran: An Agreement to Empower Evil” is spot on (July 17). But the bigger issue is how American Jews can continue to support a Democratic Party that now seems hell-bent on turning a blind eye to the possible destruction of the State of Israel, if not actually facilitating Israel’s demise directly by supporting a president who would forge such an agreement as he and his proxy, Secretary of State John Kerry, have with the Iranians. And if Jewish Democrats think another Clinton in the White House will make a difference, they are sadly mistaken.

Marc Yablonka, Burbank

A Plague in D.C. 

Regarding Danielle Berrin’s article, not only will you find a swastika in the Washington, D.C., Holocaust Museum, but you will also find hundreds of swastikas on the building directly across the street from the museum (“Symbol-ic,” July 17). The swastikas on the side of this building facing the museum are hidden from view by shrubs. However the swastikas on the north side of this building are plainly visible. You can even see them on Google Maps by zooming in and jumping to Street View to look at the north wall of this building across the street from the Holocaust Museum.

Barry Bereskin, Calabasas

Intellectual Fodder or Cause for Fire?

Until American-Jewish leadership takes a firm and real stand by censoring the current Israeli government until [Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs David Azoulay]is fired and replaced by someone who has demonstrated an understanding of the Jewish world’s diversity, nothing will change in Israeli politics (“We Cannot Call You ‘Minister,’ ” July 17). The American-Jewish support will continue to be taken for granted.

Glenn Tamir via jewishjournal.com

I think we are on a political correctness bandwagon here. People are being sensitive for absolutely nothing. [Azoulay] did not mean to insult anyone. Perhaps it was an unfortunate utterance that does not belong in the public arena but within the yeshiva world is typical of chavrutot jousting. It’s a statement meant to start a discussion and indeed a debate about Jewishness. Reform Judaism is only 180 years old in a tradition that is 3,500 years old. So the question is an opinion of tradition versus modernity. It is modernity that has to justify its departure from tradition, not the other way round. He is challenging Reform Jews to justify their Jewishness, but instead of having a real, meaningful debate, everyone is a plaintiff who has been molested and is outraged that anyone would even bring up such a subject. This subject is not going away. Especially as Israel becomes more and more Jewish, the questions “What is Jewish?” and “Who is a Jew?” will become more and more acute. It is our tradition to debate stuff to death, not to whine because someone said something we are not willing to debate, or are intellectually incapable of debating.

Dale Moshe Sumbureru via jewishjournal.com

Swastikas drawn in University of Missouri dorm


Swastikas and anti-Semitic epithets were written in a stairwell of a dormitory at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The two incidents occurred on the morning of April 9 and the evening of April 10. No suspects have been identified.

The writing was done in ash, such as from the end of a cigarette or a cigar, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. The vandalism has been removed.

Neither the university nor police have released the contents of the epithets. University of Missouri police are investigating the incidents.

Chantelle Moghadam, co-founder of Students Supporting Israel, a new campus student organization, said in a statement that the graffiti included “a swastika, a symbol representing the ‘Illuminati,’ and the words ‘Heil’ and ‘You’ve been warned.’

“Our group wants to continue to bring awareness to campus about the fact that anti-Semitism still exists here,” Moghadam said.

She said the graffiti did not just target Jews.

“This goes to show that maybe we’re not as progressive and inclusive as we think we are as a campus,” she said.

Thalia Sass, president of the Jewish Student Organization, told the student newspaper, The Maneater, that it was difficult to be Jewish on campus during such incidents.

“I’m so proud to flaunt my Jewish identity, but when incidents like this happen, it’s scary,” said Sass, a junior. “This person doesn’t know me, but they hate me just because of the single aspect that I’m Jewish.”

Swastikas painted on Jewish frat house at Vanderbilt


Two swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The vandalism occurred early Saturday morning at Alpha Epsilon Pi and was discovered after a party there, the Vanderbilt Hustler student newspaper reported. The swastikas were drawn in the elevator and on a basement door.

The university provost, Susan Wente, sent an email to the student body on Monday afternoon to inform students of the incident. She said the university’s police department was investigating.

“We understand the anguish and pain that this hateful symbol causes and we stand together to condemn any effort to intimidate or send an unwelcoming message to the Jewish members of the Vanderbilt community,” Wente said.

Ari Dubin, executive director of the Vanderbilt Hillel, said in a statement sent to JTA that  his organization is “outraged” by the incident.

“While the swastikas were spray-painted at the AEPi house, this inexcusable incident impacts every Jew on campus, and has no place at a Vanderbilt,” Dubin wrote.

“There is no ambiguity about what happened here. Spray painting swastikas at a Jewish fraternity is not a college prank or some mischievous act of vandalism. It is a malicious attack intended to bring to mind the horrors of the Holocaust, to force us to feel different, endangered, and isolated.”

Meanwhile, a swastika was found posted on the bulletin board of the International House at George Washington University, which houses members of nine fraternities and sororities. It was posted by a member of the predominantly Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, The Hatchet student newspaper reported.

The student who posted the swastika said his action “was not an expression of hatred,” according to Steven Knapp, president of the Washington, D.C., university, and that he reportedly came into possession of the swastika during a spring break trip to India.

The Metropolitan Police Department and University Police Department have launched a hate crimes investigation into the incident, according to The Hatchet.

It was the second time in three weeks that the swastika symbol was found in the International House. Three swastikas were drawn on walls there at the end of February in an incident that is now also being investigated as a hate crime, Knapp said.

Man rips down swastika display in Sacramento


A non-Jewish man tore down a swastika display from a home in Sacramento.

“I felt compelled to do what I did,” Robert Dixon was quoted as saying by the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday after ripping down the display the previous night in the suburban River Park neighborhood.

The display featured American and Israeli flags adorned with swastikas. Dixon left a Palestinian flag flying, the Bee reported.

State lawmakers had been working to have the display removed through legal channels since it was erected several weeks ago.

Dixon told the newspaper that he and the homeowner exchanged a few words as Dixon tore down the display.

“I called him a coward and he called me a violent extremist something,” Dixon said.

On Tuesday, the homeowner posted a new sign written in blue letters reading, “Terrorism? Violent Intolerant Extremism fanatical heretical authoritarian racist.”

Dixon said he also protested at the University of California, Davis, in January after the student senate adopted a resolution calling for the University of California to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

On Monday night, hundreds gathered in Sacramento on the steps of the California state capitol for a rallyagainst anti-Semitism and recent anti-Semitic incidents.

UC Davis Community, ADL respond to hate-crime graffiti


The UC Davis chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) is reeling from a hate crime involving two red swastikas spray painted on its fraternity house, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

AEPi members woke up on the morning of Jan. 31 and discovered the swastikas on a wall of the fraternity’s “house and on the ground behind a door nearby,” an ADL statement said. ADL Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk described the graffiti as a “heinous expression of hatred.” 

The City of Davis police are investigating the incident, which occurred between 2 and 9:50 a.m., and the ADL is “offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s) responsible for the vandalism,” a Feb. 2 statement by police said. 

Julia Reifkind, 20, president of the pro-Israel UC Davis group Aggies for Israel and a 2012 graduate of Milken Community Schools, told the Journal she was stunned when she saw what happened.

“I have never witnessed a hate crime up close, and to really be standing there right in front of it was a huge shock,” she said. 

The discovery of the swastikas took place during the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And two days before the discovery of the swastikas, the UC Davis student government passed an Israel divestment resolution in an 8-2-2 vote. More than 100 pro-Israel and Jewish students protested the Jan. 29 vote.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi condemned the swastikas. In a statement released Jan. 31, Katehi said the “behavior is not only repugnant and a gross violation of the values our university holds dear, it is unacceptable and must not be tolerated on our campus or anywhere else.” 

With regard to the Israel resolution vote, Katehi said in a separate statement that divestment from Israel “does not reflect the position of UC Davis or the [UC] system” and that “this type of call to action will not be entertained.” 

Reifkind, a third-year philosophy major, was among those who spoke out against the divestment vote meeting, which drew members of AEPi, according to the Aggies for Israel Facebook page. A leader of the school’s pro-Israel community, she helped orchestrate the walkout from the meeting that involved Jewish and pro-Israel students. 

Reifkind said she is “grateful” for the UC Davis administration’s condemnation of the swastika incident, but she also expressed disappointment that school leaders have not drawn a more direct and public “connection between the divestment resolution itself and anti-Semitism.”

“I think they are doing the best they can, given the climate on campus, but it would be better if they were more proactive about it,” she said. “I think they could have a bigger call to action in regard to anti-Semitism, but I’m grateful they have released a statement.”

The incident was just one of several similar incidents that have taken place at AEPi houses around the country lately, according to a statement released on Feb. 2 by AEPi’s executive director, Andrew Borans.

“On campuses throughout North America and Europe, AEPi brothers have been leading the Jewish community and leading the student movement to defend Israel,” Borans said. “Because of that leadership, in the last few months alone, our brothers have been the targets of anti-Semitic attacks at a dozen universities, including Oregon, the Claremont colleges, Arizona, Calgary, Loyola, Ohio, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Temple, Emory, SUNY-Oneonta, Tufts and, now, in Davis.”

Ronda Wilkin, a Los Angeles-based member of the UC Davis Parent and Family Council, said in a Feb. 3 phone interview that incidents like these make her concerned about the safety of students on college campuses. Her daughter, Samantha, is a third-year student at Davis, and Samantha’s twin brother, Daniel, attends the University of Oregon, both of which have been targets of anti-Semitic attacks.

“It’s sad, perhaps a little scary. You just want to make sure your kids are safe; that’s all I want. I want all of the kids at UC Davis to be safe — every color, every religion, every sexual orientation,” Wilkin told the Journal. “I just want them to be at a place that is safe and fosters an education.” 

Swastika wrapping paper or Rorschach test?


Let’s play a game. Can you find the swastikas in the picture above?

Don’t worry if it took a few minutes to find them – they can be hard to spot in the midst of the wrapping paper’s intricate design.

Today Walgreens announced that is removing all rolls of this wrapping paper from its shelves nationwide after a woman from the Northridge community of Los Angeles complained Sunday about the swastikas in the design.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had no idea what to do,”  Cheryl Shapiro, the distressed shopper told L.A.’s NBC News affiliate.  “I came home and spoke to my rabbi. He couldn’t believe it.”

Shapiro’s experience brings up a larger issue: how close to a swastika should something look to be considered offensive?

The wrapping paper is only the latest in a series of swastika products spotted on the market in recent years. In October, Sears apologized profusely for selling a ring with a swastika on it in its “men’s punk rock style” jewelry collection. In 2013, a clothing line called “Spiritual Punx” began putting colorful swastikas (that look, oddly enough, like donuts) on clothing, stickers, and accessories.  In 2007, Zara was caught selling a handbag that featured four green swastikas next to an array of flowers.

The swastika dates back thousands of years, well before Hitler’s rise to power. In fact, before the late 19th century, the symbol was primarily associated with the cultures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, in which it represented good luck or well-being. By the start of the 20th century, the swastika could be seen throughout Europe, not just in Germany. Today it is still seen on temples in places like India and Indonesia.

Of course, in any modern Western context, the swastika is inextricably associated with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. However, is the geometry of the Walgreens wrapping paper in the same category as  the Sears “punk rock” ring? After all, the hooked cross, while iconic, is a simple enough design to accidentally replicate if one is drawing enough lines and right angles.

We can only assume that, after this mishap, Walgreen’s will be extra careful in scrutinizing its products to assure they do not offend. Which is certainly more than we can say for this Brazilian homeowner whose outdoor swimming pool features a large — and unmistakably intentional — swastika.

Swastikas drawn on Yale dorm steps


Swastikas were drawn in chalk on the steps of a Yale University dormitory.

The swastikas were discovered early Sunday morning on the New Haven, Conn., campus. The Yale Police Department was investigating but had no leads as of Tuesday, the Yale Daily News reported.

“I condemn this shameful defacement, perpetrated anonymously under cover of night,” Yale dean Jonathan Holloway wrote Monday evening in an email to the campus community. “There is no room for hate in this house.

“The use of the swastika violates our values of respect, thoughtfulness, generosity, and goodwill. I will not stand idly by when this or other symbols of hate are used on this campus. It is my hope that you will join me in taking a similar stand.”

Following the discovery of the swastikas, Yale students gathered outside the dorm to write messages of support for the Jewish community as part of a chalk mural.

Last month, two swastikas were drawn on a whiteboard in a Yale lecture hall.

Sunday’s incident comes after several incidents of swastikas drawn on campuses, including at Emory and Eastern Michigan.

Philly kosher butcher shop vandalized with swastikas


A kosher butcher shop in Philadelphia was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.

Crude swastikas were painted on the butcher shop, Simon’s Glatt Kosher meats, between the evening of Sept. 10 and the next morning, the Jewish Exponent reported. The butcher store has been at its location for 20 years.

A nearby synagogue was similarly vandalized in June.

There are no witnesses and no suspects in either case.

“The defacement of public property in Philadelphia with swastikas represents an attack on the entire community,” Anti-Defamation League associate regional director Joshua Cohen told the Jewish Exponent. “The swastika is a universal symbol of hate meant to instill fear and intimidation. It’s clear that the perpetrator intended to not only damage property but also to send a message of hate to the entire community.”

Indian authorities remove ‘Hitler’ cloithing store sign


Municipal authorities in the Indian state of Gujarat removed the sign for a men's clothing store named Hitler.

The sign — on which the letter “i” was dotted with a swastika — was removed Tuesday after hundreds of complaints from both within and outside of the Jewish community.

“The store owners had voluntarily agreed to remove the controversial billboard. But when they failed to do so, we removed it,” Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Commissioner Guruprasad Mohapatra told the Press Trust of India.

“It is a sensitive issue. We had received hundreds of e-mails demanding removal of the board,” he said.

The shop owners had no prior notice that the sign was to be dismantled, according to reports. They reportedly filed a complaint with police over the action.

Shop owner Rajesh Shah told The Indian Express in September that he and his business partner Manish Chandani decided to change the name because they were “getting political pressure” to do so. They later backtracked, saying they would only remove the sign if the Jewish community gave them enough money to erect a new sign and advertise the name change.

The store in the city of Ahmedabad, which opened in August, is named for one of the proprietor's grandfathers, whose nickname was Hitler. He reportedly was called Hitler “because of his strict nature,” according to The Times of India.

Shah said he did not know about Hitler's history, except that he was a strict man, until he started researching it on the Internet, though Jewish community members said they believe the owners are not as ignorant of the history of Hitler as they say.

N.J. synagogue defaced


A Conservative synagogue in Hackensack, N.J. was defaced by anti-Semitic vandals.

Swastikas and white supremacist symbols were painted on Temple Beth El late Tuesday night, the first night of Chanukah. An accusation that Jews caused the 9-11 attacks was also painted on the building, according to reports. The graffiti was discovered by a synagogue secretary on Wednesday morning.

Police reportedly believe that the vandals were the same as those that painted swastikas on a Reconstructionist temple in neighboring Maywood, N.J. last week.

Hackensack police reportedly have scheduled extra patrols near the synagogue.

The Anti Defamation League condemned the incident in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

“We are deeply troubled by a repeat attack on a Jewish place of worship in Bergen County,” said Etzion Neuer, ADL Director of Community Service & Policy in the New York Regional Office. “At a time when Jews are celebrating the joyous festival of Hanukkah, they instead find themselves cleaning symbols of hatred off their place of worship. While graffiti swastikas are often the work of malicious juveniles, the appearance of white supremacist symbols strongly suggests an extremist connection.”

Swastikas, death threat found at N.Y. restaurant


Spray-painted swastikas and a death threat written in German were found at an Italian restaurant in Orangeburg, N.Y.

The manager of Cassie’s Restaurant told police that he found the symbols inside and outside the business when he opened Monday afternoon. Between $2,000 and $3,000 was missing.

Police are investigating the graffiti as a “bias incident,” the Rockland Journal News reported.

Orangeburg is located 11 miles from the Skver Chasidic village of New Square, where dissident Aron Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over most of his body in an alleged arson attack on May 22.

Police later arrested Shaul Spitzer, 18, on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. Police say that Spitzer was attempting to set fire to Rottenberg’s house because he does not pray at the main New Square congregation led by the Skverers’ grand rebbe, David Twersky.

Seattle synagogues defaced with swastikas


Unknown vandals painted red swastikas on two Seattle-area synagogues.

The swastikas and the phrase “4th Riech” (sic) were painted late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, police and synagogue members told the Seattle Times.

The word Nazi and at least eight other swastikas also were painted on a sidewalk and driveway in the area, Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath member Sarah Rivkin told the newspaper.

Congregants at Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath and the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation were attending Selichot services during the incident.

A Little Light Seeps Into Dark Times


It is hard to recall such despairing times.

A young Tel Aviv man spat three times on Yitzhak Rabin’s memorial — the same number as the bullets that felled him — in front of a Channel 2 news crew a few days before the anniversary of his murder. Glaring swastikas were found splashed across the site on the morning of the yahrzeit (anniversary of his death). Both of these events bring to the surface some of the toxic undercurrents running through this country.

It is hard to believe, eight years later, that this national day of grief becomes an opportunity for some to demonstrate their despicable, baseless hatred. But maybe that is the point, as suggested by many since that terrible night, and in retrospect, we will remember it as the beginning of the destruction of the Third Temple. But just when you think we have sunk as low as we can go, more than 100,000 people turn out to honor Rabin in a memorial rally in the huge square that bears his name and to voice a collective "yes" for peace that hasn’t been heard here in the last three years or more.

It may be wishful thinking to say so, but the positive energy galvanized to express support for Rabin’s way — a political track, a sustained and determined peace process — might well signal, at last, the return of Israel’s "peace camp."

For three years, once-hopeful Israelis have been stunned into silence by suicide bombings and have lapsed into an acquiescent majority that nods its assent to both prolonged military occupation and aggressive responses to terror that are not accompanied by any serious, creative political initiative.

Oslo, it was concluded, did not work, period. Ehud Barak and his generous Camp David-Taba offer did not persuade the Palestinians to negotiate for peace, proving that they do not want a peaceful compromise. So muscle is the only answer.

But after three years and nearly 1,000 Israelis deaths, compounded by the sinking realization that a strong economy and an endless conflict do not go hand in hand, the level of frustration and trepidation about the future has reached an all-time high.

This loss of hope is best illustrated by the sheer apathy of the Israeli voter in the recent local elections. Figures showed 41 percent came out to vote for their mayor, compared to 57.4 percent who voted in the last round of municipal elections, making this the lowest voter turnout in Israel’s history. The gloomy economic statistics released the day before the elections, plus a runaway government deficit and looming Histadrut (labor union) action that has already been tagged the "mother of all strikes," all put the country in a miserable mood.

The numbers were overwhelming: close to 11 percent unemployment, with towns across Israel rating as high as 27 percent (Kseife) in Arab and Bedouin towns and 12.4 percent (Acre) in Jewish towns; 300,000 families (triple the 1988 figure) living below the poverty line, meaning that one in every three children in the State of Israel is living in poverty.

By staying home, the voters made clear that they have lost faith that the political system can do much to remedy the grim situation. What does this augur for Israeli democracy?

Still, national security issues dominate the public agenda.

As support grew within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for an easing of restrictions on the Palestinians, the remarkable admission to the press by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon that Israel’s failure to have done enough in that area not only contributed to the fall of Mahmoud Abbas but, in fact endangered Israel dominated the headlines and rocked the establishment.

Ya’alon, who was identified as the "high-ranking IDF officer" quoted in the explosive article written by Nahum Barnea in Yediot Aharonot, said, "The ongoing curfew is causing damage to Israel’s security: It destroys the agriculture, it increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organizations."

Public criticism, first by pilots who refused to take part in air force attacks on civilian population centers, then by the grieving parents of soldiers killed in the territories and, finally, by the army’s top brass, is making life increasingly uncomfortable for Ariel Sharon.

To top it off, the prime minister was grilled for seven hours by police investigators over corruption charges. Sharon’s main line of defense, according to press reports, was that he knows nothing of these matters and the police should talk to his son, Gilad — a rather cynical response considering that Gilad, all along, has been "pleading the fifth."

All of this was accompanied by the announcement of the Geneva accords, the joint U.S. tour of Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, the Israel Democracy Institute’s first public discussion of a 50-page paper examining Israel’s departure from the settlements and the mass turnout at Rabin Square.

The Histadrut strike hasn’t materialized, at least for now, pushed off by a late-night Labor Court order. And, as it turns out, some cracks of light have appeared in the government’s dark refusal to talk to the Palestinian Authority, when Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter met with Jibril Rajoub — former head of preventative security in the West Bank — and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

With a full 71 percent of the Israeli people supporting a renewal of political negotiations with the Palestinians (according to the latest Steinmetz Center poll released Nov. 5), a final glimmer of hope comes from the unsubstantiated rumor that Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei will meet this weekend — bringing us back full circle to Rabin and his way.

If nothing else, let them talk.


Roberta Fahn Schoffman is an expert in U.S.-Israel relations and Diaspora Jewry and founder of MindSet Media and Strategic Consulting.

+