Annual audit documents incidents of anti-Semitism in Wisconsin

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Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., demonstrate outside Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City on the eve of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. —Photo: Shutterstock

Last summer, half a dozen signs suddenly appeared in Algoma denouncing Jewish people — going so far as to urge locals to “Kill the Jews, keep Algoma clean.”

Police and the FBI investigated the incident as a hate crime, but the perpetrators were never found. 

The incident also was investigated by the Milwaukee-based Jewish Community Relations Council and documented in JCRC’s 2013 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. Released earlier this month, the report will be turned over to the Anti-Defamation League and become part of its national audit.

JCRC director Elana Kahn-Oren said the report represents only the tip of the problem, since the vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents go unreported. “Many times when I talk to someone about the audit, they tell me about an incident,” she said. “So this list represents only a sliver of the story.”

Other documented instances of anti-Semitism in Wisconsin last year included:

• High school students invoked the stereotype of Jewish people as obsessed with money by throwing coins at Jewish students.

• A Wisconsin State Fair vendor said to a Jewish fairgoer that she sold a diamond but didn’t get a high price because, “Jews are cheap.” She added: “And you know, they smell.” 

• A landlord told a tenant that her drain clogged because, “All that Jewish hair is clogging it. You people have such thick hair.” 

• On hearing that a particular woman was Jewish, a Racine woman said, “Oh, you’re the people who killed my Lord.”

• A 12-year-old child in a suburban swim club called another child a “dirty Jew.” 

• Comments on the Facebook page of a local organization included repeated references to Jewish power and declarations of Jewish and Israeli control over the U.S. government. Other comments called for deporting “all elected officials with dual U.S./Israeli citizenship or ties to Zionism”; “Zionist assholes”; and “Israel has all the money … F___ing crooks.”

Kahn-Oren said that Wisconsin and other places that are not home to a large Jewish population generally have a higher proportion of anti-Semitism. 

“When someone knows someone of another faith, it (positively) affects their thought and attitude toward that faith group,” she said.

Kahn-Oren said that anti-Semitism based on theological differences is fading, but a disturbing new trend of hatred toward Jews is emerging on the political left. It’s based on anti-Zionism, she said.

“The Jewish community is the most consistently progressive faith group, and it’s hard to have those that we’ve stood in partnership with all these years say things that are painful and that feel so deeply threatening,” Kahn-Oren said. “Jews are themselves critical of Israel, but there’s a line crossed when people are questioning the very existence of a Jewish state.”

Despite occasional outbursts of hatred toward Jews, from a historical perspective conditions are favorable for Jewish adults in America today, Kahn-Oren said. Jewish children, however, often have a tough time.

“Jews have historically learned how to navigate society,” she said. “But kids don’t know what hate is. Kids in school don’t know how to navigate hate. High school can be brutal.” 

The JCRC has found that anti-Semites are usually bigoted toward Muslims, LGBT people and other minorities, as well.

“It’s all the same thing,” Kahn-Oren said. “It’s all the same fight.”