The Milwaukee Jewish Federation released a report Monday that found anti-Semitic incidents in Wisconsin increased by 55% from 2018 to 2019.
The organization says it believes the numbers have gone up because more people feel comfortable expressing harmful — even dangerous — commentary.
Elana Kahn is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which is part of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. She says there were about 40 anti-Semitic incidents in Wisconsin in 2018.
Last year, there were more than 70.
The incidents, Kahn explains, range from anti-Semitic social media posts on the websites of Jewish institutions, to graffiti depicting swastikas, to harassment in the workplace or schools. And, she says the attacks are coming from both the far right and the far left.
“One of the things that we've seen in our data is that is the rise of old conspiracy theories that are new again," she says, "but particularly this great replacement theory that says that the Jews control many things. Among the things that the Jews control — they control people of color and are working to for the demise of the white majority. It's nonsense, right? Of course, it's nonsense. But we've seen in the last few years is a return of that great replacement theory that's shown up a lot in social media. And that was a surprise."
The report also shows a dramatic increase of reports of anti-Semitism in schools — including in middle schools, where the numbers rose 250%.
Kahn says she’s not sure whether the actual incidents have gone up, or if parents are increasingly reporting anti-Semitic activity. She says frequently such cases are underreported.
“Every time we talk about the audit, we hear people saying, ‘Oh, this thing happened to my my child.’ Or just last week, I heard about something awful that had happened at one of our local middle schools. The parents said they made people promise secrecy. So I don't know who the people were and they didn't want anyone doing anything because they didn't want their kids to face the backlash," she says.
When it comes to combating anti-Semitic behavior, Kahn says it’s not a matter of telling people to stop. However, she says what could make a difference is legislation that’s before state lawmakers: "I'm hoping that the bill that's going through the Senate now, that calls for mandatory education of the Holocaust and other genocides, will help by not only increasing knowledge about what can happen when hate is unchallenged, but also can do something to help build empathy.”
Kahn says she doesn’t know the exact number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country, but she believes what Jewish people experience here is probably not far off from what happens in other states.