Throughout much of the region, antisemitic incidents increasingly took the form of physical attacks on individuals. Since 2005, the statistical findings of both official and nongovernmental monitors have identified a pattern in which such attacks constitute a growing proportion of incidents overall. Even in the absence of detailed statistical data, the evidence from incident reports and NGO analyses provide equally compelling evidence of the increase of personal assaults within a larger environment of burgeoning antisemitic and racist discourse.
The targets of personal attacks were frequently identified as Jewish because they wore a kippah (yarmulke), distinctive clothing or jewelry. Others were targeted as “visibly Jewish”—a term commonly used by Jewish community monitors of antisemitism—because they followed the customs of Orthodox Jewry. In many cases of physical assaults, attackers targeted people attending or going to or from Jewish schools, community centers, and synagogues.
- In the United Kingdom, on July 21, 2007, a group of teenage youths shouting antisemitic epithets attacked a man leaving a synagogue in Salford, Manchester after evening services. They punched him in the head and threw bricks at him.
- In France, on September 6, 2007, in Garges-lès-Gonesse, an unknown attacker punched a man, who was leaving a synagogue, several times and smashed the rear window of his car.
- In Ukraine, on September 27, 2007, a group of four youths attacked a worshipper as he left a synagogue in Zhytomyr after evening prayers; the target of the attack, an Israeli Jew, responded with mace and drove off the attackers.
In many cases, physical violence appeared to represent spontaneous acts of prejudice and hatred against individuals who were considered to be “visibly Jewish.”
- In Germany, on December 12, 2007, two inebriated young men in their twenties harassed two Jews traveling on a bus in Berlin, spitting on one and pushing him. The attackers, who shouted antisemitic slurs, were subsequently arrested.
- In the Russian Federation, men described as skinheads assaulted two Jewish men on June 11, 2007, in Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, while shouting antisemitic epithets. The victims were wearing “traditional Jewish clothes” when attacked. Two 21-year-olds were detained, and a prosecutor said they would be charged with incitement to racial and religious hatred.
In a disturbing number of cases, Jewish religious leaders were singled out for violence. Among the examples of assault were:
- In France, on April 19, 2007, Rabbi Elie Dahan was attacked by a young man at the Paris Nord railway station. Onlookers sought to detain the attacker, but failed to do so. Rabbi Dahan’s glasses were broken, causing an eye injury.
- In Germany, a man attacked 42-year-old Rabbi Zalman Gurevitch on September 7, 2007, in Frankfurt, stabbing him in the stomach and shouting antisemitic expletives.
- In the United States, on October 9, 2007, Orthodox Rabbi Mordechai Moskowitz was brutally beaten with an aluminum baseball bat in Lakewood, New Jersey. Witnesses told police they saw a man walk by Rabbi Moskowitz and turn on the rabbi, beating him in the head and body with the baseball bat.”
- In Ukraine, on November 29, 2007, a group shouting antisemitic epithets attacked Rabbi Binyamin Wolf, the chief rabbi of Sevastopol and Chabad representative, as he left his home for a synagogue. Wolf suffered serious injuries and was subsequently hospitalized.
Jewish children and young people were frequent victims of assaults and threatening behavior in the street, in public spaces, on public transport, and in and around their schools. Jewish schools had their windows broken, were daubed with threatening antisemitic graffiti, and were subjected to bomb threats and arson. Children in school playgrounds were pelted with stones. Human Rights First is aware of cases in which school students were physically assaulted in France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Representative examples include:
- In France, on October 8, 2007, a group of young people attacked a 14-year-old student of a Jewish school in Paris, kicking him and hitting him with a stick; he reportedly suffered an eye injury and scratches.
- In Germany’s capital, Berlin, on January 16, 2007, four attackers accosted five students of the city’s non-religious Jewish high school, insulting them with antisemitic screeds and setting a dog on them.
- In the Russian Federation’s Moscow Oblast, on February 19, 2007, a group of young people harassed three pupils from the Torat Chaim Jewish School after classes, demanded they confirm they were Jewish and physically assaulted them, leaving one with a concussion.
In a number of incidents, schools, from kindergarten to high school, suffered stone-throwing, bomb threats, arson, and serious acts of vandalism:
- In Canada, the Jewish People’s and Peretz School in Montreal was forced to evacuate 500 students after a telephoned bomb threat on February 2, 2007. A further threat was received on February 6.
- In Germany, in February 2007, attackers threw a smoke bomb through the window of a Jewish kindergarten in Berlin, which failed to go off. The same individuals were reported to have sprayed swastikas, other racist symbols, and antisemitic slogans on school walls and playground equipment.
Violent manifestations of antisemitism were also present on university campuses, with assaults on Jewish students and student centers, dormitories, and Jewish fraternity houses. Jewish university students were under threat off campus. In one widely reported incident in the United States, a group of four college students on a New York City subway train became the target of antisemitic epithets and physical assault on December 11, 2007. The victims may have been saved from more serious injuries thanks to 20-year-old Hassan Askari, a Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, who intervened to protect them and was subsequently attacked as well.
An overwhelming number of assaults reported involved incidents of harassment and intimidation involving relatively minor, but nevertheless threatening acts of violence. These incidents, in which antisemitic taunts and threats were accompanied by the throwing of objects, spitting, slapping, or jostling, were the everyday actions that challenge many members of Jewish communities with a constant reminder of hatred and prejudice.
In many incidents, people described as visibly Jewish were assaulted as they walked on city sidewalks: pelted with eggs or trash, spat upon, or doused with unknown liquids while being subjected to antisemitic slurs. In Montreal, Canada, for example, a customer at a gas station spat upon a Jewish patron there after identifying him as a Jew.
In the United Kingdom, a small sampling of the reported incidents represents a virtual map of Jewish London and the Midlands, covered in egg splatter, trash, and broken bottles. The recurrent incidents leave the Jewish community angered, irritated, frustrated, and worried about what might come next. A number of representative cases of debris throwing, including the following:
- On June 9, in Ilford, the occupants of a passing vehicle threw white paint over visibly Jewish pedestrians who were walking home from synagogue.
- On April 3, a person who was visibly Jewish was pelted with eggs as he walked home from a Passover meal in Ilford.
- On January 30, in Wood Green, London, youths approached a visibly Jewish teenager and his mother on the upper deck of a bus, and knocked off his hat. When the two got up and went to find seats below, one of the youths followed and spat on the boy.
Similar everyday harassment and violence was reported elsewhere in the region. In the United States, in Howell, New Jersey, seven teenagers were arrested after having traveled through a Jewish neighborhood to throw eggs at an Orthodox Jewish resident while screaming antisemitic epithets and obscenities.
Attackers have targeted and identified victims based on distinctive clothing and jewelry, or facial features, such as beards or side-curls associated with Orthodox Jewish men. A result is a constant pressure to conceal one’s identity. But for many Jews, and in particular those of Orthodox faith, a concealment of identity is neither possible nor desirable.
The constant threat of harassment or physical attack prompts some Jewish men to conceal their religious identity by wearing baseball caps or other hats over their skull-caps. In France, Jewish men have been under pressure to conceal their religious affiliation as a matter of safety, with several religious leaders acknowledging the need to wear concealing hats themselves over their kippahs. A March 2008 Jewish Telegraph Agency story reported that “covering their yarmulke-clad heads with baseball caps and tucking away their Stars of David, French Jews who once advertised their Jewishness are keeping a low profile in an environment where Jews remain targets.”
In Poland, a 31-year-old Swedish rabbi, now a resident of Wrocław, described his feelings after an incident in which he was threatened on a train in an antisemitic harangue. Rabbi Icchak Rapaport told the European Jewish Press that he had not previously been the target of an antisemitic attack, and that there was a “wonderful atmosphere” in his neighborhood. But the attack changed everything: “now I am really scared. From this day on I will wear a hat instead of a yarmulke outside my city. Once such a thing has happened I am not going to tempt my fate again. This is the sad reality. One cannot publicly wear a kippah.”