Fort Lee resident discovers swastikas on utility pole and rock
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Fort Lee resident discovers swastikas on utility pole and rock

Anti-Defamation League defends its reclassification of the hate symbol

The discovery of swastika graffiti in Fort Lee by a local teen this week put the Anti-Defamation League’s revised definition of the hate symbol to the test.

The teen’s mother, who asked to remain anonymous, called the police Tuesday to the scene near McCloud Avenue where her daughter had discovered the swastikas painted on a large rock and a utility pole. On Wednesday she called The Jewish Standard and the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey region.

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A Fort Lee woman and her daughter on Tuesday discovered this swastika spray-painted on a utility pole in Fort Lee.

“I am concerned,” she said. “I do see it more and more. We never experienced anything (anti-Semitic) until the past couple of years.”

The woman told the Standard that her daughter has been the target of anti-Semitic remarks at her school and has seen swastikas on blackboards and desks. She praised the school’s response to the incidents, but said anti-Semitism remains a concern for the family.

“It does exist and my daughter has experienced it,” she said.

The police were swift in their response, the woman said.

Though the swastika, for many, symbolizes the Nazi ideology that brought forth the Holocaust, the Anti-Defamation League recently changed its criteria for determining whether a swastika incident is also an anti-Semitic incident.

“Based on some of the circumstances, we would consider this to be an anti-Semitic incident,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s ADL office. “We received a call from a resident who was upset by it. That automatically puts it in that category.”

When the ADL released its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents last month, it redefined how it would approach the swastika.

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Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s Anti-Defamation League, says context determines whether swastika graffiti are anti-Semitic or general symbols of hate. File photo

“We know that the swastika has, for some, lost its meaning as the primary symbol of Nazism and instead become a more generalized symbol of hate,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said at the time. “So we are being more careful to include graffiti incidents that specifically target Jews or Jewish institutions as we continue the process of re-evaluating and redefining how we measure anti-Jewish incidents.”

New Jersey, with 132 anti-Semitic incidents, ranked third in the nation, behind California, with 275, and New York, with 209. There had been 238 incidents in 2008.

“The symbol on its own begs for some detail,” Neuer said. He cited a case earlier this month in Long Island where a Latino family discovered a swastika painted on their door.

“The swastika is always going to be considered a symbol of hate, but it’s not always directed against Jews,” he said. “The challenge is to determine motive. So while the swastika is always a symbol of hate, what we’re seeing is it’s not always directed against Jews.”

“We don’t know who [the swastika] was geared toward,” the Fort Lee woman said in response to the ADL’s announcement. “When you see that, [anti-Semitism is] honestly the first thing you think of. I don’t know what [else] to think of it.”

Neuer told the Standard later on Wednesday that Fort Lee police had informed him that the graffiti had been there for about a year. The ADL intended to follow up as to why the graffiti had been allowed to remain for so long.

Calls to the Fort Lee Police Department Wednesday were not returned.

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