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US anti-Semitic acts hit record high: Jewish NGO

(FILES) In this file photo Orthodox Jewish men walk in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights on February 27, 2019 in New York. The United States saw a record number of anti-Semitic incidents last year, including a sharp spike in physical attacks, the Anti-Defamation League said
(FILES) In this file photo Orthodox Jewish men walk in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights on February 27, 2019 in New York. The United States saw a record number of anti-Semitic incidents last year, including a sharp spike in physical attacks, the Anti-Defamation League said Angela Weiss AFP/File
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New York (AFP)

The United States saw a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, the Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday, as it warned that extremists are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to fuel further hatred this year.

The ADL, which works to protect Jewish communities, recorded 2,107 acts of anti-Semitism in the US last year, the highest number since record-keeping began in 1979.

The cases included a sharp spike in physical attacks.

"This was a year of unprecedented antisemitic activity, a time when many Jewish communities across the country had direct encounters with hate," CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

"This contributed to a rising climate of anxiety and fear in our communities."

High-profile attacks included a shooting at a synagogue in California in April, another shooting at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey in December and a stabbing at a rabbi's house in New York state that same month.

Anti-Semitic incidents rose 12 percent from 2018, when there were 1,879 acts, the audit found.

Last year was worse than 2017, which previously had the highest number of cases with 1,986.

2019 saw a 56 percent increase in physical assaults, while harassment and vandalism also increased, the ADL said.

Five people died in anti-Semitic violence and another 91 individuals were attacked physically, it added.

More than half of the assaults nationwide took place in New York City, home to the largest Jewish population outside of Israel, including a large Orthodox community in Brooklyn.

Incidents were reported in every state, except Alaska and Hawaii.

The states with the highest numbers of cases were New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

- 'Conspiracies' -

The ADL said some 270 incidents were committed by known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology.

Greenblatt said he feared a worsening of anti-Semitism in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has resulted in soaring unemployment.

"We are deeply concerned that if things get harder for folks economically and socially, there is a real risk of Jews being played as scapegoats," he said.

"If you look to Jewish history, we have good reason for concern," Greenblatt added, referring to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.

Greenblatt cited the "spreading of anti-Semitic conspiracies about Covid-19 across social media platforms" and the hacking of Zoom video calls by far-right extremists.

"We have seen some extremists actively using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to fuel hatred and anti-shutdown rallies across the country," he told reporters.

Last month, the ADL condemned New York City Mayor Bill be Blasio after he denounced a large gathering of Orthodox Jews for the funeral of a Rabbi, saying it violated social distancing orders.

Jewish groups accused the mayor of fueling discrimination by singling out the community when there had been other incidents of violations.

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