ABINGTON – On the day racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on a remote path of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station on the morning of April 27, the Anti-Defamation League of New England flagged its report saying anti-Semitic incidents in the region are down in 2020 from 2019.
While that may be due in part to the pandemic, with schools and campuses and other places closed for much of the year, the number of incidents was still at “historically high levels,” the report stated.
In a coincidence to the timing of the ADL’s report, on May 2, Tufts University President Tony Monaco reported two incidents of hate on campus during the past week: A large swastika painted on the Bello Field shed found by one of the college’s athletic teams, and a verbal assault from a passing car of several Asian students walking along Professors Row. The university’s police department is investigating the incidents.
“Let me state as clearly as I can: Acts of anti-Asian hate and anti-Semitism such as these are unacceptable and violate what we stand for as a community.” Monaco said in a statement.
According to the ADL, there were a reported 109 anti-Semitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in New England last year, according to organization’s annual audit, released on the second anniversary of the deadly shooting at Chabad of Poway in California.
The report said while there was a 23 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents in New England from 2019 to 2020, that number is still historically high since the anti-hate organization started tracking them in 1979.
Nationwide, ADL’s “Audit of Antisemitic Incidents” totaled 1,242 incidents of harassment in 2020, which is up 10 percent from 2019. The ADL also tracked 73 anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts last year, which represents a 36 percent decline from 114 in 2019.
Massachusetts chalked up the sixth highest number of incidents per state in the country, behind New York (336), New Jersey (295), California (289), Florida (127) and Pennsylvania (101).
The discovery of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti last week was made by Tara Conley of Weymouth as she was out for a walk with her son when they came across it scrawled on the pathway in what turned out to be a part of neighboring Abington.
Conley found writing that said “Kill all Jews,” adjacent to a swastika drawn in black paint. “Hitler is a god,” read another.
Although Conley lives in Weymouth, the remote area where she found the screed was actually in Abington. It’s an area where young people often congregate, she said. As someone who frequently walks there, she said it showed up within a couple of days of when she found it.
“It’s 2021, why do we have to live like this?” said Conley, 45, who is Asian American, and who whose 24-year-old son is Black. .
She posted pictures of the hate speech on Facebook and reported it to authorities. The town of Abington sent a Highway Department crew to cover it up that day, and Town Manager Scott Lambiase said police are investigating.
The ADL reported acts of vandalism nationwide declined by 18 percent, while they fell by 33 percent in Massachusetts, with 35 incidents in 2020, compared to 52 in 2019.
“It’s a reminder that there are people and forces out there that are not dissuaded about their hatred for Jews and other groups, and they want to share it,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England’s regional director, when asked about the hate graffiti discovered at the old naval air station. “And they want to share their hate. And the graffiti was not just directed at Jews, it was directed at Black Americans.”
While some might conjecture that this was the work of kids, Trestan said we should let the police conduct an investigation and not jump to conclusions.
“It doesn’t matter if it was a kid, or an adult or a white supremacist, the impact on the person who sees it, the harm, the threat is exactly the same.”
The incident is among a string of some high-profile anti-Semitic incidents over the past several months, including the discovery of anti-Semitic and racist graffiti on the rocks on Preston Beach in Swampscott and Marblehead in September, an incident the ADL singled out in its press release.
Trestan said the decline in incidents in New England is positive, but it may be related to a drop in numbers in K-12 schools and on college campuses, which were closed due to the pandemic.
Incidents at Massachusetts Jewish institutions and schools were down slightly, with 14 in 2020 and 15 the year before. Incidents at non-Jewish K-12 schools in the state fell from 40 in 2019 to 13 in 2020, while incidents on Bay State college campuses were down, with eight last year and 13 the year before.
“Unfortunately, these anti-Asian and anti-Semitic incidents are part of a larger trend in the United States,” Tufts President Monaco said in his remarks. “Our campus has not been immune to this trend as complaints of bias to our Office of Equal Opportunity have increased significantly over the past several years. This is not acceptable.”
In February 2019, dozens of anti-Semitic flyers featuring pigs with guns emblazoned with the words “Israeli Apartheid Forces” were found at Tufts University Hillel, and this was condemned by Monaco and the Hillel.
In September 2019, a swastika was found attached to a student’s door at a residence hall on the university’s Medford/Somerville campus, an act which Monaco and Alums for Campus Fairness at Tufts University also condemned.
This academic year, a Jewish Tufts student and a member of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary was singled out for fact checking and removing false information from a student referendum promoted by the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the university. The referendum sought to rebuke the university’s former police chief for taking part in a 2017 ADL exchange program in which he received training in Israel. The student faced harassment and an unsuccessful effort to get him ousted from his student government post for what his detractors termed his “pro-Israel bias.”
The ADL tracked disruptions of Zoom meetings in schools, workplaces and during funerals, called Zoom bombing, including a Newton school’s Zoom meeting being disrupted by a known white supremacist hacker who joined the meeting and pulled down his shirt collar to reveal a swastika tattoo on his chest.
“We saw people perpetrating anti-Semitism, not on a campus, but infiltrating online,” Trestan said, adding “The pandemic did not deter motivated anti-Semites, they still found a way to harass Jews.”
Trestan said the best way to respond “is everyone needs to be united in calling out all forms of hate and reporting it. It can’t be random.” Hate has to be called out at all levels in the community, from the top down, he said.
Abington Town Manager Lambiase said the town’s police chief and deputy police chief are looking into the hate graffiti incident.
“It’s not something we are typically dealing with,” he said. “I think it’s a bunch of misguided kids who need a little bit of straightening out.” Lambiase said unlike a well-used walking trail in town, there is nobody watching these remote areas, which are hard to access. The town has asked the developer of the abandoned air station to step up security.
“It’s aggravating on our part in not knowing how to solve the problem,” Lambiase said.
Staff writer Ethan M. Forman can be reached at email@example.com