Newton police note spike in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate crimes

Mirroring a disturbing national and regional trend, hate crimes have sharply increased in the last few months compared to previous years, especially anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate crimes, according to the Newton Police Department.

Two new incidents—a red swastika was spray-painted in the parking lot of the Ward School, and a rope that tied an American and Israeli flag to a fence at a home on Boylston Street was cut and the flags stolen—late last week.

There have been nine incidents classified anti-Semitic or anti-Israel in the last three weeks, according to Lt. Amanda Henrickson, bureau commander for Community Services and the civil rights officer for the department.

And 17 incidents classified as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel have been reported in Newton from the first three months of 2024, compared to 26 during all of 2023 and only 10 in all of 2021, she said.

The department is working with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office and coordinating efforts with the Massachusetts State Police Heart Team, a newly formed unit tasked with investigating hate crimes.

“We take every incident very seriously,” Henrickson, who is overseeing the investigations, said.

While Henrickson did not have any data regarding anti-Semitic acts in other cities or towns in the region, she said anecdotal reports suggest that the number of similar crimes has increased in many communities.

Statewide, the Anti-Defamation League reports that anti-Semitic incidents increased by 41 per cent between 2021 and 2022. Nearly half of the reports involved vandalism. Most of the others involved harassment.

Massachusetts reported the sixth highest number of incidents nationally, just behind New York, California, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

Referencing the incidents in Newton, Ron Fish, ADL New England Interim Regional Director, said that “vandalism that crosses the threshold of a home is an especially malicious act.”

“Recent incidents in Newton are a grim reminder of the work we need to do to ensure that there is no tolerance for anti-Semitism in our community,” Fish said.

The American Defamation League earlier this year reported that nationally since Oct. 7 (when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and killed nearly 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians), there were nearly 34 anti-Semitic or anti-Israel incidents per day, putting 2024 on track to be the highest year for such attacks against Jews since the ADL started tracking this data nearly 50 years ago.

In Newton, when a hate crime is reported, a patrol officer goes to the scene to investigate and determine if the incident fits the definition of a hate crime. If it does, the Community Service Bureau is notified and begins a more thorough investigation, partnering with the detective bureau depending on the nature of the incident.

As the civil rights officer, Henrickson would then notify the mayor’s office, the Newton Human Rights Commission, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Anti-Hate Task Force and the ADL.

The Police Department has taken a proactive approach in dealing with anti-Semitism and other hate crimes, meet with religious leaders in the community, including area synagogues and other Jewish organizations.

Henrickson and her team have done security walks through religious institutions in the city and have held safety briefings. Synagogues have sharply increased their security budgets in recent years. At one Temple, members were encouraged to make special gifts of $250 per family to pay for added security costs.

Henrickson encourages residents to actively support the Police Department in preventing hate crimes by contacting the department’s non-emergency line (617-796- 2100), confidential tip line (617-796-2121) or, in an emergency, by calling 911.

“We want people in the community to feel safe. The quicker residents can inform us of any incident, the better it is for all of us,” Henrickson said.