George Mason University School of Law professor David Bernstein of The Volokh Conspiracy writes at Reason:
Those who wish to blame Trump [for an alleged surge in anti-Semitism] have an ace in the hole, an Anti-Defamation League study that purports to show an almost 60 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents between 2016 and 2017, which is implicitly blamed on Trump. This study has been cited on over and over in response to Pittsburgh.
There are several problems with relying on this study for Trump-bashing, however. The first is that the study includes 193 incidents of bomb threats to Jewish institutions as anti-Semitic incidents, even though by the time the ADL published the study, it had been conclusively shown that the two perpetrators of the bomb threats were not motivated by anti-Semitism. One can only guess why the ADL chose to inflate its statistics in this way, but none of the explanations speak well of it.
Second, the ADL report itself acknowledges that some of the rise in incidents may simply be due to better reporting (“more people are reporting incidents to ADL than ever before”).
Third, “college campuses saw a total of 204 incidents in 2017, compared to 108 in 2016.” How many of those incidents emanating from traditional forms of anti-Semitism that one might associate with Trumpian populism, and how many from leftist/pro-Palestinian sources? The ADL doesn’t say.
Fourth, the ADL counts ambiguous incidents as anti-Semitic incidents, so long as they were reported as such. For example, the report states, “Jewish graves or cemeteries were desecrated seven times in 2017. The desecration of Jewish headstones is a classic anti-Semitic act employed for hundreds of years. The majority of the cemetery desecrations occurred in the first months of the year, at the same time as the bomb threats were called in to Jewish institutions, which contributed to a sense that the Jewish American community was under siege.” The problem is that desecrations of cemeteries of all faiths is not uncommon, and are often the product of either bored teenagers or vagrants. In fact, at least some of the cemetery incidents counted by the ADL were ultimately determined by police not to be anti-Semitic in origin. The desecraton of a cemetery in St. Louis got a particularly large amount of attention. The police eventually caught the perpetrator, and determined that he was just “mad and drunk,” not anti-Semitic. The ADL has not updated its study or press release to reflect such facts. Other questionable “anti-Semitic” incidents I’ve seen reported include graffitti with a swastika and “TRUMP.” Is the “author” supporting “Trump the Nazi” or attacking Trump by accusing him of being a Nazi? My inclination would in most cases be to suspect the latter, but surely it’s at least unclear.
None of which is to say that we can rule out a “surge,” or at least a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents during and perhaps because of the Trump administration. But the ADL study everyone is relying on to prove this doesn’t show any such thing.
Read Bernstein’s full report.
As Bernstein notes, nearly all of the JCC bomb threats were carried out by 19-year-old Israeli-American Michael Kaydar and a few copycat threats were called in by Juan Thompson, who is African-American.