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Threat Assessment: THE INCREASE IN US HATE CRIMES DUE TO THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE DISPUTE

Sophie Provins, Neoclis Soteriou, NORTHCOM Team; Yechezkel Mehlman, Filipe Neves, CENTCOM Team

Week of Monday, May 31, 2021


A pro-Palestinian demonstration in San Francisco on May 16, 2021[1]


Summary

This most recent round of conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Hamas has led to widespread implications within the United States (US), including coverage and attention on social media, protests, counter-protests, and increased incidents antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. It is highly likely that this increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes is a direct result of protests and counter-protests and widespread news and social media coverage, including disinformation and propaganda, relating to the Israel/Palestine dispute. Although tension within the US relating to the most recent conflict has subsided due to the ceasefire, the Israel-Palestine dispute remains ongoing and is highly likely to reignite into conflict again in the future. When this occurs, it will be highly likely to reignite an increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes in the US. Therefore, assessments of the recent rise in hate crimes are relevant to addressing such future incidents. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) assesses that:

  • It is highly likely that demonstrations in support of both the Israeli and Palestinian causes will continue across the US and counter-demonstrations in protest of the other side, which could escalate to violence.

  • It is highly likely that American Jews and Muslims will be increasingly targeted, including those not attending rallies.

  • It is likely that the past incidents will continue to grow and escalate to more violent means.

  • The type of incidents recently occurring include hate speech, vandalism, and physical violence in some cases. These will likely continue to happen in the coming months.

  • It is nearly certain that there will be increased social and political pressure in the US to influence the country’s policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • It is highly likely that widespread disinformation, propaganda, and hate speech posted to social media allowed this round of conflict to gain widespread attention throughout the US, and at least a portion of the hate crime incidents that have occurred as a result can be attributed to the role of social media.


Alternatively, the ceasefire introduced between Israel and Hamas could lead to a more substantial, long-lasting peace treaty, which would reduce the violence in the Middle East region and the international response and focus. This would reduce tensions across the US, leading to the number of Islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes reducing in response to the Israel-Palestine dispute.


Assessments


The Role of Demonstrations

It is highly likely that as the Israel/Palestine dispute continues, there will continue to be demonstrations across the globe and particularly in the US, conducted by supporters for both nations. This assessment is based on the responses that have already occurred, and the likelihood of the situation to continue developing and violence to resume in the region.[2] President Biden has thus far refused to condemn the actions of Israel and the Netanyahu Administration, which has led to frustrations amongst staffers in the White House and citizens across the US.[3] Counter protests are also likely to be organized in response to known demonstrations by those who believe in the opposite cause. The scenes of counter protests are highly likely to escalate into violence due to the high level of tensions. These scenes of violence are likely to be conducted as a hate crime designed to target either a Jew representative of Israel or a Muslim representative of Palestine.


The Risk to American Jews and Muslims

Despite Israel and Palestine being the parties embroiled in the conflict, the clashes occurring in the US concern the wider Jewish and Muslim communities instead of just those of Israeli and Palestinian heritage. As seen by the rise of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents in the US following escalations in Israel and Gaza, there is strong indication that Jews and Muslims are at a heightened risk of being targeted, including those not associating themselves with either side or attending any demonstrations. On May 13, investigators allegedly found anti-Palestinian graffiti in New York City stating “Death to Palestine”, and on May 21, the New York Police Department (NYPD) reported that a Jewish man had been assaulted in Times Square.[4] Notwithstanding the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, CTG assesses that it is highly likely that the conflict will continue to affect US Jewish and Muslim communities.


Past Attacks in the United States

The number of targeted antisemitic attacks has been steadily increasing the last few years. From 2015-2019, antisemitic incidents reached record highs, according to the Anti-Defamation League.[5] Before the recent riots at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, there were individuals, who stormed the Capitol, wearing antisemitic clothing. In 2020, menorahs were shot with pellet guns around colleges. President Biden is presumed to restore funding to address domestic extremism and appoint leadership to prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes.[6] Since the use of antisemitic incidents was on the firs it is likely that further escalations will increase the amount of incidents already being seen. Furthermore, the recent attacks and tensions in the Middle East seem to show an evolution to more physical violence is likely. This recent spike comes at a time with many other hate crime incidents occurring. Therefore, the United States should work on policy to prevent all these types of hate crimes from occuring. The United States should be more inclined now to act, as the amount and type of incident happening is escalating. CTG assessed that it is likely that the United States will work on policy changes but not as a direct reaction to anti-semitism but all hate crimes.


The Types of Hate Crimes

Recent incidents span across the entire US. In Los Angeles, California, people dining outside were shouted at with antisemitic slogans. It is being investigated as a hate crime.[7] A couple days prior a Jewish man was forced to run for his life after being chased by two motorists.[8] Another investigation for a hate crime is taking place in Skokie, Illinois where two assailants broke a window to a synagogue. On video one was seen holding a stick and the other a “Freedom for Palestine” flag.[9] On the east coast in Bal Harbour, Florida, four men yelled, "Die Jew," at a Jewish man, then threatening to rape his wife and daughter. In the north in Midtown Manhattan, a group of people attacked a Jewish man in the middle of the street in the middle of the day.[10] Furthermore, in New York two suspects were arrested for allegedly yelling antisemitic comments at four people outside of a synagogue, damaging a car, and assaulting two Jewish teenagers with a bat.[11] The type of incidents occurring include hate speech, vandalism, and physical violence in some cases. The escalation in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes is highly likely to continue to rise. Policy needs to be made to prosecute those in violation of anti-semitism and hate crimes. It is already presumed that President Biden is prioritizing policy to help prevent these incidents.[12] Law enforcement should work to find and prosecute individuals involved in more physical violence in regards to hate crimes, since physical violent incidents, in regards to anti-semitism and hate crimes, are likely to rise.


US Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

CTG assesses that as the conflict between Israel and Palestine progresses, it is nearly certain that there will be further political pressure in the US to shape and/or change the country’s policy regarding the conflict. Despite restoring aid to Palestinians and supporting a two-state solution, the US military support for Israel and the blocking of United Nations resolutions against Israel have been heavily criticized by some political figures, including Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who urged the US to reevaluate its position and ensure US military assistance was not being used to violate the rights of the Palestinians.[13] President Joe Biden stated he remained committed to Israel’s security and that Israel’s recognition in the Middle East was key to achieve peace in the region.[14] It is also likely that the conflict will become an increasingly divisive topic in the social realm as seen by the recent pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protests ocurring all across the US, as well as the increase of Islamophobic and antisemitic attacks. The divisive nature of the topic indicates that as long as the conflict continues, it is highly likely that clashes between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrators will continue to take place. Under such circumstances, the polarization of American society on this issue and the spread of violence as a result of said polarization is bound to challenge the country’s national security, especially if attacks become more frequent and violent. This means that the Biden Administration will be forced to navigate the line between maintaining its support for Israel, one of its most relevant allies in the Middle East, while also ensuring that such support does not fuel further tensions and division within American society.


The Role of Social Media

Throughout the recent period of violence between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas, social media played a prominent role in the news coverage and formation of public perceptions of the conflict. Much of this social media coverage was from official news sites operating on the ground, such as Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. However, a greater amount of social media posts relating to the Israel/Palestine dispute originated from private individuals and institutions, as well as internet trolls. This included a large volume of explicitly antisemitic or Islamophobic propaganda, as well as disinformation about the conflict that was shared in order to spread and justify propagandistic views. Examples of such disinformation include a video posted to Twitter by a spokesperson of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly showing Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip launching rockets at Israelis from densely populated civilian areas that was actually from elsewhere in the Middle East and recorded in 2018.[15] This example demonstrates that disinformation can be difficult to distinguish as in this case it was spread by a seemingly reputable public figure. Additionally, there was a video which was widely shared across social media in the US, allegedly showing a crowd of Jewish Israelis cheering while the Al-Aqsa mosque burned; however, the mosque was not on fire rather a tree next to the mosque was set on fire.[16] This example in particular provoked a particularly negative response, as millions of Muslims throughout the US were under the false impression that the third holiest site in Islam had been set on fire.


It is highly likely that social media allowed this recent round of conflict between the IDF and Hamas to gain much more widespread attention than it otherwise would have in the US, and highly likely that social media will continue to play a prominent role in American perceptions of the Israel/Palestine dispute. It is certain that social media allowed a large number of individuals to share information and personal views on the issue, which included large amounts of disinformation, explicitly antisemitic or islamophobic propaganda, and hate-speech. It is also highly likely that the majority of this disinformation, propaganda and hate-speech would not have been able to spread as widely without the influence of social media. As such, it is highly likely that at least a portion of the violent antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime incidents that have occurred throughout the US as a result of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict can be attributed to the role of social media. Additionally, it is highly likely that widespread disinformation, propaganda and hate-speech posted to social media will serve to radicalize some individuals in the US to commit these types of hate crime incidents in the future, particularly at the next major outbreak of conflict between the IDF and Palestinian militants. Because of this, authorities in the US must be aware of the ways in which disinformation and propaganda on social media that is related to foreign conflicts can lead to an increase in hate crime incidents domestically.


Alternative Assessment

The ceasefire introduced between Israel and Hamas on May 21, 2021 suggests that violence between the two nations may begin to subside. In this case, there may be a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine that enables a safe future for all civilians in both nations. This in turn would likely end all conflicts across the US between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine, as protests and rallies would reduce, as would the social media focus on the conflict reducing the ability for disinformation and extremist propaganda to spread. In this scenario, President Biden would no longer have calls to introduce urgent policy condemning the actions of Israel, and therefore pressure on his presidency would also subside. Hate crimes conducted toward Jews and Muslims throughout the US would likely reduce as a result.


Future Implications

There are a number of future implications that are likely to emerge as a result of this recent increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime incidents throughout the US due to public response to ongoing violence between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, and developments to the Israel-Palestine dispute. Due to the prominent role that social media played in the spread of disinformation regarding the violence in Israel and Palestine, it is highly likely that social media will continue to facilitate the spread of disinformation that is likely to play a role in provoking such incidents in the future. This includes the increased risk of extremists, such as neo-Nazi and Islamist individuals and groups, spreading antisemitic propaganda online and justifying violent acts in relation to the Israel-Palestine dispute. The occurrence of these incidents are likely to increase the risk of social normalization of violent incidents as a legitimate response to one's views regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. This, in turn, would likely increase the frequency of such antisemitic and islamophobic hate crime incidents throughout the US due to the fact that the Israel/Palestine dispute is nearly certain to flare up again at some point in the future, and likely to remain ongoing into the foreseeable future.


CTG Efforts

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is continuing to monitor the Israel-Palestine dispute and its impact across the globe. CTG’s CENTCOM Team is continuously investigating the impact of the dispute on the local region, as well as monitoring attacks launched from both sides of the dispute. CTG’s NORTHCOM Team is utilizing open source intelligence (OSINT) in order to detect the planning of protests and counter protests in the US, and observe any indications that violence could occur. Additionally, CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes and Hazards (WATCH) Officers and Threat Hunters provide 24/7 analysis on global threats to ensure that all reports provide up to date and accurate information.


Annex A-C


A. An act of antisemitism in Illinois[17]



B. A synagogue in Tucson vandalized[18]



C. A swastika scratched into the front window of a synagogue[19]



________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] A pro-Palestinian demonstration in San Francisco on 16 May 2021 by Raphaël Vinot, licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Flash Alert: Increased Likelihood of Clashes Between Pro-Palestinians and Pro-Israelis Across the Globe, The Counterterrorism Group, May 2021, https://www.linkedin.com/posts/the-counterterrorism-group_flash-alert-pro-palestine-and-pro-israel-activity-6798763586396176384-yN9L

[3] Over 500 Democratic staffers urge Joe Biden to ‘hold Israel accountable’, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/24/joe-biden-israel-palestine-letter-democratic-staffers

[4] Antisemitic incidents heightened across U.S. amid Israel-Gaza fighting; mosques were damaged, too, NBC News, May 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/antisemitic-incidents-heightened-across-u-s-amid-israel-gaza-fighting-n1268137?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_ma

[5] U.S. "moving into a dangerous phase" as anti-Semitic incidents surge, group says, CBS News, January 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/anti-semitic-incidents-on-rise/

[6] ibid.

[7] L.A. sushi restaurant attack is being investigated as an antisemitic hate crime, LA Times, May 2021, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-05-19/l-a-sushi-restaurant-attack-is-being-investigated-as-an-antisemitic-hate-crime

[8] Police say antisemitic attacks in Los Angeles may be related, ABC News, May 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/police-antisemitic-attacks-los-angeles-related-77817404

[9] Antisemitic incidents heightened across U.S. amid Israel-Gaza fighting; mosques were damaged, too, NBC News, May 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/antisemitic-incidents-heightened-across-u-s-amid-israel-gaza-fighting-n1268137

[10] Officials Say Hate Crimes Against Jews Are Growing In The Aftermath Of Gaza Violence, NPR, May 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/05/24/999790233/officials-say-hate-crimes-against-jews-are-growing-in-the-aftermath-of-gaza-viol

[11] Three New York men charged with hate crimes after series of antisemitic attacks, MSN News, May 2021, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/three-new-york-men-charged-with-hate-crimes-after-series-of-antisemitic-attacks/ar-AAKs0rt

[12] U.S. "moving into a dangerous phase" as anti-Semitic incidents surge, group says, CBS News, January 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/anti-semitic-incidents-on-rise/

[13] Minnesota activists and congressional delegation respond to escalating violence in Mideast, MinnPost, May 2021, https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2021/05/minnesota-activists-and-congressional-delegation-respond-to-escalating-violence-in-mideast/

[14] The Latest: Biden says his party ‘still supports Israel’, The Associated Press, May 2021, https://apnews.com/article/africa-middle-east-europe-israel-palestinian-conflict-business-9ae5b10886c06e70f0255b188ac1e0cc

[15] Lies on Social Media Inflame Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, The New York Times, May 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/technology/israel-palestine-misinformation-lies-social-media.html

[16] Israel-Palestinian conflict: False and misleading claims fact-checked, BBC, May 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/57111293

[17] Sickening! In a blatant act of antisemitism, pro-Palestinian supporters vandalized a synagogue in Skokie, Illinois, with a “Free Palestine” sign and smashed several of the synagogues windows by StandWithUs, Twitter, May 2021, https://twitter.com/StandWithUs/status/1395469376849993730?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1395469376849993730%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsaraacarter.com%2Fus-sees-an-uptick-of-anti-semitic-crimes-after-israel-gaza-conflict-comes-to-an-end%2F

[18] Yesterday, my synagogue in Tucson was vandalized. It's heartbreaking to see such a disgusting act in a place where so many are meant to feel safest. Despite these actions, we will not be shaken. Hate has no place in Arizona by Gabrielle Giffords, Twitter, May 2021, https://twitter.com/GabbyGiffords/status/1395427083615051777

[19] A swastika scratched into the front window of a synagogue. May 2021. Salt Lake City, Utah. We will not cower in fear by Avremi Zippel, Twitter, May 2021, https://twitter.com/UtahRabbi/status/1393940617403588609?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1393940617403588609%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsaraacarter.com%2Fus-sees-an-uptick-of-anti-semitic-crimes-after-israel-gaza-conflict-comes-to-an-end%2F


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