A recent spate of apparent hate crimes not far from Bergen County have a disturbing common denominator: None of them, in fact, may have been hate crimes in the classic sense. It should be noted that these crimes also appear unrelated to the recent spate of incidents directed at area synagogues.
On Nov. 9, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, cars were set on fire and anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on park benches in the heavily Jewish Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn.
In New Jersey in late November, bricks were hurled through the plate glass windows of a kosher restaurant, a kosher pizza shop, two Judaica stores, and a Jewish-owned hardware store in Highland Park, and Jewish establishments in New Brunswick were similarly attacked. “Kristallnacht in New Jersey,” blared the headlines.
|Above: A rock was thrown through the front window of Park Place, a kosher restaurant on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, early on Nov. 30. New Jersey Jewish News|
In New York, last month and this, swastikas were found in an apartment building and harassing, anti-Semitic phone calls were reported to the police.
Police have made arrests in all but the earliest case, and they are reportedly closing in on a “person of interest” in that one.
What ties these cases together is that none of them are now believed to have been motivated by hatred of Jews or any other minority. Instead, the perpetrators are believed to have used the form of hate crimes out of personal animus, mental disturbance, or, in the case of the torched cars in Brooklyn, a desire to commit insurance fraud.
On Monday, New York police arrested David Haddad and charged him with aggravated harassment as a hate crime in connection to the telephone calls and graffiti. It turns out that one of the victims was his mother, to whom he allegedly said, “All Jews should die and go to hell.”
In New Jersey, shortly after the windows were smashed in Highland Park, police arrested Richard Green. Green is Jewish and was known to local Jewish leaders as “troubled and mentally ill.”
And investigators in Brooklyn have told the media they believe the cars were set on fire to collect insurance money, noting that that they did not belong to local residents.
In sum: three apparent sprees of hate crimes, but no anti-Semitic hate.
Etzion Neuer of the Anti-Defamation League says that, regardless, “the bottom line is that Jewish hate symbols are being used, and the impact is just as great when it happens. No matter who does them, the acts can still serve to traumatize or terrorize the community.”
But when it is discovered that the perpetrator is Jewish, “we wince,” said Neuer. “It diverts resources from law enforcement, it emboldens cynics.”
Do attacks such as those in Highland Park show up in the ADL’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents?
“Technically, we might consider it an incident, but it’s not the type of incident we would ever choose to highlight,” said Neuer.
“The the fact is the violence was directed against Jews, but we would be hesitant to use it as a classic example of anti-Semitism.”