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The ADL Deems The Swastika A Universial Symbol Of ‘Hate’, Then Again ‘It Depends’

The swastika now shows up so often as a generic symbol of hatred that the Anti-Defamation League, in its annual tally of hate crimes against Jews, will no longer automatically count its appearance as an act of anti-Semitism.


“The swastika has morphed into a universal symbol of hate,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy organization. “Today it’s used as an epithet against African-Americans, Hispanics and gays, as well as Jews, because it is a symbol which frightens.”
Observing the trend, he said that his group had decided it would examine reports of scrawled swastikas for contextual clues. If it appears Jews were not the target, the incident will not be included in the league’s annual audit of anti-Semitic hate crimes.more

Instead, the new system shows a 10 percent decrease. But comparing the two surveys would be akin to comparing apples to oranges because of the varying qualifiers. William Helmreich, a sociology professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, said he understood the reasons for differentiating between swastikas directly targeting Jews and those painted in general locations. But Helmreich said he had “reservations” about omitting the latter category from the report.

“I don’t feel they should stop taking note of swastikas in general because they do represent a symbol of hatred,” he said. “Why not just differentiate it in the report, as we do in sociology? Rather than yes or no, there is agree, agree strongly or disagree.”*

Lauter said information on swastikas not directed at Jews was being preserved, even if excluded from the audit. “We may take a look to see if it warrants a separate report,” she said. “This [system] does enable us to look at these kinds of trends.”

Michael Berenbaum, former project director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and now a consultant, said he agrees with ADL’s decision.  “The presence of swastikas in certain contexts is not sufficient to prove anti-Semitism,” he said. “Individual judgments should be made, and ADL has done as good a job as anyone over the years in quantifying anti-Semitism. They have reported declines when it is in their self-interest to have it on the rise [because of fund raising].”

A March 2007 story in The Jewish Week noted that the ADL’s presentation of numbers that year was misleading because while there was a drop in the overall number of incidents—including e-mails and verbal harassment—violent attacks on Jews were on the rise, particularly in New York. In stressing the aggregate decrease in incidents, the organization was presenting a picture of greater tolerance and safety when the rising assaults told a different story.  At the time, Foxman said the agency was considering changing the way it tracks and documents incidents.more

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