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Why Jews Are Targeted in 72 Percent Of Religious Hate Crimes In LA County

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Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles. (Photo by Karen via Flickr Creative Commons)

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in America's history. It comes amid an increase in anti-Semitic incidents around the country, including in Los Angeles County.

Of the 101 religiously motivated hate crimes reported last year in L.A. County, 72 percent targeted the Jewish community, according to L.A. County's Commission on Human Relations. That's up from 69 percent in 2016.

The rate of violence for religious crimes is much lower than for hate crimes motivated by race, gender or sexual orientation.

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"Religion-motivated crimes and anti-Semitic incidents tend to be more vandalism, threats and harassment," said Amanda Susskind, regional director with the Anti-Defamation League. "Now, of course, this weekend is a massive exception."

Sixty percent of anti-Semitic crimes in Los Angeles County last year were acts of vandalism, like slurs spray-painted on a kosher market in West Los Angeles and swastikas drawn on a power pole outside a Pomona synagogue. Others included acts of disorderly conduct and intimidation, including a bomb threat made to a Hollywood comedy club hosting a special Rosh Hashanah event.

The Anti-Defamation League reportedabout anti-Semitic 2,000 "hate incidents" across the country last year, a 57 percent increase from 2016. In California, there were 268 anti-Semitic incidents during 2017 compared to 211 during 2016.

Those incidents included someone spray-painting "Hitler did nothing wrong" on a wall in Van Nuys, an anti-Semitic flyer displayed on a college campus, and a man yelling "white power" while driving past a Jewish high school.

Incidents reported to the organization were not all prosecuted as hate crimes.

The uptick in anti-Semitism worries Brian Levin, who runs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. He says hate incidents against Jews were on the decline before 2014.

"We've had dramatic demographic changes, we've had the rise of white nationalism and this growing distrust in the institutions have held us together," said Levin. "If there's an anti-elitist bent in the air or some kind of over-the-top nationalism, Jews typically become the scapegoat."

African-Americans remain the group most targeted in L.A. County hate crimes, followed by those who are gay, lesbian and transgender, but Levin says Jewish communities continue to be targeted, especially in large cities like New York and Los Angeles.

"Jews are going to be among the more prominent targets in major cities in part because white nationalists are taking their fight to blue places," Levin said. "But also because Jews tend to be represented more in major cities."

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The Anti-Defamation League found anti-Semitic incidents at schools and colleges nationwide nearly doubled in 2017, for the second year in a row.

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