Michigan sees sharp rise anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes in 2019

People attend a prayer and candlelight vigil at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California. A gunman opened fire at the Congregation Chabad synagogue on the last day of Passover leaving one person dead and three others injured. The suspect is in custody.| David McNew/Getty Images

Michigan has seen a large spike in incidents of extremism and anti-Semitism in recent years. In 2019 alone, there were 63 reported incidents across the state, according to data collected by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The ADL’s Hate, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism and Extremism (HEAT) map shows in 2019 there were 42 incidents of white supremacy propaganda, 25 incidents of Anti-semitic harassment or vandalism, one white supremacy event and one extremist murder. 

In 2018, there were 51 similar incidents; 34 incidents in 2017; and 17 incidents in 2016.

Anti-Defamation Act H.E.A.T. Map for Michigan, 2020

Last year, the propaganda has been traced back to seven organizations, all described as either alt-right groups, neo-Nazi groups or Ku Klux Klan groups. 

The ADL also found several cases of anti-Semitic harassment in Michigan, from swastikas scrawled onto students’ desks and spray painted on to the side of synagogues to death threats and harassment on Facebook. 

In March 2019, the ADL reports Anthony Ozomoaro, a self-declared sovereign citizen, was charged with open murder after he shot and killed an ex-girlfriend in an act of domestic violence. 

While anti-Semitic and white supremacy has reached an all time high in Michigan, it’s also reflective of what’s happening all across the country. 

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White supremacist propaganda more than doubled in 2019 over the previous year, making it the highest year on record in the U.S. according to data released on Thursday by the ADL.

In December, President Donald Trump, while speaking to the Israeli American Council, said, “A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well; you’re brutal killers. You’re not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me. You have no choice.”

Days later, five people were shot and killed at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City in an act of anti-Semitic domestic terrorism. 

“While we are proud Democrats, we will gladly work with political leaders – of any party – who wish to engage in substantive efforts to protect American Jews and combat antisemitism,” Noah Arbit, the founder and chair of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, wrote in a statement on Dec. 15. “But Donald Trump is not a normal political leader. One cannot spew the most noxious tropes of antisemitism on Saturday [Dec. 7], declare fighting hatred of Jews their highest priority on Tuesday [Dec. 10], and hope to remain a credible partner on antisemitism on Thursday [Dec. 12].”

Michigan Jewish Dems condemn Trump for calling Jews ‘brutal killers’ and ‘not nice people at all’

Last month, the Michigan Democratic Party granted a formal charter to the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus.

“I am excited to see the MDP officially charter the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus,” U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), Michigan’s first Jewish congresswoman, said in a statement. “I applaud the Caucus’ mission to, among other items, combat antisemitism, and I know it will serve as a critical ally in elevating the issues that matter to Michigan’s Jewish community across our state.”

For Arbit, anti-Semitism and hate crimes are political. 

Noah Arbit

“A lot of organizations and institutions will try to deemphasize politics in assessing anti-Semitism and its manifestations, both in attacks and rhetoric,” Arbit told the Advance. “But from my perspective, anti-Semitism is deeply political, and without a response that is equally political we are not going to be equipped to fight it.”

Arbit says part of the work of the caucus is to increase Jewish representation in the Michigan Legislature and boost education on the needs of the Jewish community. 

Last year, Attorney General Dana Nessel opened the Hate Crimes Unit within the office’s criminal division to investigate and prosecute hate crimes on the rise in Michigan. 

“I felt as though we needed people in government to be a contrary voice, to be a voice of safety and security and protection,” Nessel said at a small media roundtable last March. “… I just really wanted to utilize this position as chief law enforcement official in this state to send a message that we’re going to be protecting people in every community in this state.”