One every hour: ADL records 8,873 antisemitic incidents in 2023 — more than double the previous record

CEO Jonathan Greenblatt calls situation 'a national emergency, a five-alarm fire'; organization calls for federal and state measures to combat antisemitism

Even before the Oct. 7 terror attacks and ensuing wave of antisemitic and anti-Israel attacks and rhetoric around the world, 2023 was on track to see the largest number of reported antisemitic incidents on record, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual ??Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which was released on Tuesday.

According to the ADL’s tally, there were 8,873 antisemitic incidents across the United States in 2023, nearly 2.5 times the 3,698 events recorded in 2022, which was at the time the largest number on record. The majority of the incidents — 5,204 of them; far more than in all of 2022 — occurred between Oct. 7 and Dec. 31, and roughly half of those included specific references to Israel, Zionism or Palestine.

“Antisemitism is nothing short of a national emergency, a five-alarm fire that is still raging across the country and in our local communities and campuses,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said in a statement. “Jewish Americans are being targeted for who they are at school, at work, on the street, in Jewish institutions and even at home. This crisis demands immediate action from every sector of society and every state in the union. We need every governor to develop and put in place a comprehensive strategy to fight antisemitism, just as the administration has done at the national level.”

In the 2023 audit, the ADL includes two policy recommendations for lawmakers: at the federal level, for Congress to pass the Countering Antisemitism Act, which would create a dedicated White House antisemitism coordinator; and for every state to pass its own strategy to counter antisemitism in the vein of the White House’s national strategy.

“Despite these unprecedented challenges, American Jews must not give in to fear,” Greenblatt said. “It may not feel so right now, but we have many more allies than enemies. And we call on all people of good will to stand with their Jewish friends and neighbors. We need your support and your allyship.”

The number of incidents increased in every major category of the audit: Physical assaults increased by 45%, to 161 incidents, and vandalism increased by 69%, to 2,177 incidents. The largest jump was in harassment — defined by the ADL as “cases in which one or more Jewish people (or people who were perceived to be Jewish) were harassed verbally or in writing with antisemitic slurs, stereotypes or conspiracy theories” — which increased by 184%, to 6,535 incidents.

Notably absent from the ADL’s tally for 2023 is the death of Paul Kessler, who was killed during a confrontation between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in California in November. The ADL said it excluded the incident “out of an excess of caution” as the case is still under investigation, but it may add it in “depending on facts that emerge at trial.”

The number of antisemitic events on college campuses more than quadrupled, from 219 in 2022 to 922 incidents, and represented a tenth of all incidents in the U.S. in 2023. The number of antisemitic incidents in K-12 schools doubled, from 494 in 2022 to 1,162 last year, with the number of assaults in K-12 schools increasing from five in 2022 to 26.

While much of the rise in antisemitic incidents in 2023 was attributed to far-left anti-Zionism, the ADL also recorded a jump in activity by white supremacists compared to 2022. According to the ADL, there were 1,160 incidents of white supremacists spreading antisemitic propaganda in 2023, up from 852 in 2022. (That is not to say that white supremacists conducted only 1,160 antisemitic incidents, but that only that number comprised propaganda campaigns.) Nearly all of these were conducted by two white supremacists groups, Patriot Front and Goyim Defense League, which accounted for 427 and 529 incidents, respectively.

The states with the highest number of incidents were California with 1,266, followed by New York with 1,218, New Jersey with 830 and Florida with 463.

Last year also saw the largest “antisemitic bomb threat spree” ever recorded by ADL, with 1,009 antisemitic bomb threats called in, almost all of them about synagogues, compared to 91 bomb threats in 2022. There were also 104 hoax “swatting” incidents, in which law enforcement was called in for a serious threat, resulting in a building being evacuated.

“The massive volume of incidents we documented in 2023 took many forms, including bomb threats and swatting campaigns, all aimed at terrorizing the community by disrupting services and activities at synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the country,” said Oren Segal, the ADL’s vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism. “Our tracking of a swatting network, enabled ADL to offer crucial intelligence to law enforcement, ensuring accountability for perpetrators, while also preemptively alerting targeted communities and mitigating potential harm.”

An important caveat to the 2023 total is a controversial change that the organization made to its methodology after Oct. 7, when it began including “expressions of opposition to Zionism, as well as support for resistance against Israel or Zionists,” no matter where they occurred. (In the past, spray painting something like “Down with Israel” or “Free Gaza” would not be included in the tally, but the ADL believes that the context in which these slogans are used can make them antisemitic in nature, even if they aren’t explicitly so.)

Even with this change, the ADL said it does not include burning or desecrating Israeli flags in its tally or protests outside pro-Israel political activist groups or Israeli embassies and consulates “unless those protests incorporate anti-Zionism, support for terrorism or classic antisemitic tropes.”

This update resulted in a significant increase in the number of incidents in the 2023 audit — an additional 1,350 incidents, according to the ADL. Yet even without this change, last year still would have seen 7,523 incidents reported, slightly more than double the figure from 2022.

An ADL spokesperson told eJewishPhilanthropy that the organization plans to keep this methodology update for the time being. “To date, the conditions that emerged after Oct. 7 have not abated,” the spokesperson said. “Radical anti-Zionism that targets and demonizes large swaths of the American Jewish community continues to be a serious problem across the country.”

Another limitation on the ability to compare a given year’s tally by the ADL to another is that the organization is constantly improving its methods, meaning that an increase in the amount of recorded incidents may be due — at least in part — to better collection techniques, not to greater numbers of incidents. For instance, the ADL has increased the number of partner groups that report antisemitic incidents back to it for the audit.

“The audit does not purport to be a count of every antisemitic incident in the country, but rather of every antisemitic incident ADL is aware of,” the ADL spokesperson said. “The fact that we may become aware of a new source of information about antisemitic incidents only means that previous years were an undercount.”

However, a number of factors indicate that the record number of antisemitic incidents in 2023 was not the result of a methodology change that expanded the definition of antisemitic or improved collection methods, but to a genuine rise in antisemitism across the country.

“While better reporting may be one factor in the increase, that alone would not be sufficient to account for the overall significant jump in incidents we have seen in recent years,” the spokesperson said. “Even without our cooperative partnerships, the 2023 audit numbers still would have been the highest recorded by ADL in more than four decades.”