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May 23, 2022 11:17 am
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Antisemitic Vandalism Is a True Threat to the Jewish Community

avatar by Craig Dershowitz

Opinion

Illustrative: the Hollis Hills, Queens public menorah display vandalized in December, 2014. Photo: NY City Council

Of the 2,717 antisemitic incidents reported by the ADL last year, 853 were acts of vandalism.

We might want to breathe a sigh of relief to know that roughly one third of the hateful attacks against Jews were not physical assault — but we would be very wrong to minimize the severity and consequence of hate-motivated defacement. In fact, the rise of antisemitic graffiti likely portends the rise of more serious and violent personal attacks.

The “broken windows theory” teaches that “if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken … one un-repaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”

In other words, as soon as we become complacent about any form of hate crimes, all forms of hate crimes become more and more acceptable. And as the past has shown us, repeated and unchecked antisemitic graffiti will ultimately lead to the devaluation of Jewish life.

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I also posit that the rise of vandalism speeds the pace and severity of violent, even deadly, attacks for two reasons.

First, the radical left and radical right both thrive in an atmosphere of one-up-man-ship. So, if you’ve scribbled some antisemitic message in your notebook, someone else has painted it on a building, and then someone else must — as they do in Williamsburg — play “punch a Jew.” Of course, we know the next step — just look at the Pittsburgh and Buffalo shootings. In both cases, the murderers wrote extensively about how others of similar minds had not gone far enough in their hateful pursuit.

Second, referring back to the “broken windows theory,” we must look at social norms and conventions. It is all too clear that many harbor hate in their hearts, but are simply too scared — consciously or not — of violating social orthodoxies. Antisemitic vandalism rips away that layer of protection, and — quite literally — writes in bold colors that hatred of Jews is allowed. Once freed of these basic constraints and social conventions, the haters will be emboldened to take further — and worse — action.

Unlike in some areas studied by “broken window” authors, Jews are not allowing this gross defacement to stand. Hateful graffiti is cleaned or covered as soon as it appears, and those in positions of power are quick to point out and denounce such actions. But these actions keep coming, and threaten to overwhelm our responses.

We cannot allow our leaders to define what are acceptable or unacceptable forms of antisemitism. Any act of antisemitism is dangerous, and antisemitic vandalism won’t stay confined to vandalism for long. I encourage our community to consider the true consequences of a broken window — of an antisemitic defilement of property — and of how lightly we take such things.

Craig Dershowitz is the Executive Director of Artists 4 Israel.

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