The number of bias crimes in New Jersey rose 8 percent last year and Jews were the most persecuted religious group, according to the state’s annual Unified Crime Report, which the Attorney General’s Office released last week.

According to the report, compiled from police reports from across the state, there were 876 bias incidents reported in 2008, compared to 809 in 2007. Jews accounted for 29 percent of all bias victimized religious groups. Bergen County recorded 62 incidents in 2008, compared to 48 the previous year, while Hudson County reported 41 incidents, up from 26. Passaic County reported 16, down from 34.

Among racial groups, blacks were the most victimized, while Hispanics represented the most targeted ethnic group.

“It’s a reminder that even in the age of Obama that racism and bigotry still rear their ugly heads all the time,” said Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office.

The ages of those involved in bias crimes is of great concern, Neuer said. Of the 422 offenders profiled in the report, 170 were between the ages of 11 and 17. Of the 486 victims profiled, 144 were between those ages.

The Attorney General’s Office offered no comment when asked about reasons behind the numbers, while the ADL pointed to the need for increased education.

“That really is a major red flag,” Neuer said. “It shows us where we have to continue to devote a lot of our attention.”

He called for continued Holocaust education in elementary and secondary schools, anti-bias training for students and educators, and rigorous enforcement of school anti-bullying policies.

“The most effective Holocaust education is not necessarily focusing on just the history and anti-Semitism,” Neuer said. “When it’s taught effectively in public school it must also teach a broader lesson of respect for all.”

Incidents of religious bias in 2008
Catholic 8

Islamic 13
Protestant 1

Hindu 4
Jewish 256
Other 13

Total 295

Almost two years ago, Gov. Jon Corzine created a commission to address bullying in schools. That commission, of which the ADL is a part, is scheduled to release a report on its findings and recommendations in the coming months.

“We have a limited window when we can educate a human being,” he said. “We have to come up with an effective balance [between] education and punishment.”

Holocaust education is a “significant piece” in reaching that age group, Neuer said. He praised the work of the public schools and the New Jersey Holocaust Commission, but lamented increasingly limited resources available to educators. To help remedy that, the ADL and Holocaust Commission cosponsor an annual cash award to a teacher who has most creatively reached out to his or her students in Holocaust education.

“Teachers are often underpaid and underappreciated for the work that they do,” he said. “This award is meant to really recognize the work that they do and emphasize the importance that we place on imparting the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Types of bias incidents in 2008
Swastika 163
Graffiti 191
Letters 72

Other 42
Cross-burning 1
In person 365
Telephone 42

Total 876

The rise in reported incidents is certainly cause for concern, Neuer said, but he also praised the state for its reporting practices.

“Every year New Jersey demonstrates its leadership in bias crime data collection,” he said. “Most states do not issue reports as comprehensive as New Jersey’s. It’s critical that these numbers are published so we can gauge the state of affairs and respond appropriately.”

Neuer cited studies that have demonstrated correlations between increased reporting and public confidence that the authorities are taking action. When people do not feel the police will help, they do not report crimes as often, he said.

“The fact that we have systems in place,” he said, “through law enforcement and organizations like ADL that can help people out, encourages the act of reporting.”