Group: Incidents against Jews rise in NM

A swastika found in a restroom at Los Alamos National Laboratory, bomb threats at a Jewish center in Albuquerque and electronic hate mail sent to a New Mexico blogger were some of the anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017 by the Anti-Defamation League.

The group tentatively reports a 67 percent increase nationwide of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, almost 1,300 cases total, with a final report expected in early 2018. The Mountain States Region, which includes Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, also saw an increase, the organization reported.

There were seven incidents in New Mexico between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2017, up from five for the same months in 2016, said Jeremy Shaver, the associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Denver.

Of those cases, the league reports six cases of harassment and threats in New Mexico and one case of vandalism — the swastika found in a restroom at LANL by a Jewish employee.

The tally also includes multiple bomb threats at the Albuquerque Jewish Community Center between January and February. Other potential reports of anti-Semitism in the last three months of 2017 are still being investigated, Shaver said.

“Any increase in anti-Semitism is concerning, especially since this is the second year in a row that the number of incidents has increased,” Scott L. Levin, the Mountain States director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement issued with the report. “It is deeply disturbing that some individuals feel emboldened and empowered to act upon their anti-Semitic beliefs by targeting Jewish individuals and institutions with vandalism, harassment and even assault.”

One of those targeted was Albuquerque blogger Marc Yellin, who publishes AbqJew.net, a website with events and commentary on Jewish life. In February, he opened a contact form from a website reader to see specific threats of harm, ethnic slurs and the name of William Pierce, the founder of a white nationalist organization.

Yellin, who moved to New Mexico seven years ago with his wife, was at first fearful.

“I checked the home security and was more aware of who was walking behind me,” he said.

But he also contacted the Anti-Defamation League, which in turn filed a report with local police and the FBI. He spoke about the incident to The New York Times, which published his account in February, titled “This Week in Hate.”

Yellin said the media attention has been positive in that he has been in contact with others who were attacked, and they have encouraged him to keep publishing.

“The one good thing that came out of this is I was able to meet a whole lot of people who care about anti-Semitisim and care about hate crimes, and we all support each other. The message that I have sent out and I have received is to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Yellin doesn’t see his blog as political or controversial — he focuses on calendar events and profiles of people and events in the Jewish community around Albuquerque and elsewhere in New Mexico.

But he said he thinks the new administration of President Donald Trump has emboldened all racists and that crimes will continue to increase.

“I think he made it more permissible to express and act out on anti-everybody feelings,” Yellin said.

Shaver of the Anti-Defamation League in Denver said the report on hate crimes was published before the Dec. 7 shooting at Aztec High School, where 21-year-old William Atchison killed two students.

The league said Atchison described himself on websites as a “white supremacist” and “pro-Trump,” but he was also anti-Jewish, using video game simulations to kill, run over and hunt Jews.

“He had developed an obsession with violence against Jews almost as great as his obsession with school violence. Had Atchison lived in a city with a significant Jewish population, it is even possible the tragedy he caused might have taken an anti-Semitic form instead of the shape that it did,” the Anti-Defamation League wrote in a Dec. 18 blog about the case.

The league’s report documents 703 incidents of harassment nationwide, including 162 bomb threats against Jewish institutions, 584 incidents of vandalism and 12 physical assaults.

As with past years, the states with the highest number of incidents tend to be those with the largest Jewish populations, with New York and California leading the list.

That’s one reason Yellin said he was so surprised by the threat against him, which occurred in Albuquerque. But in the age of the internet, he noted it could have come from anywhere, including outside the United States.

“I feel reasonably safe,” Yellin said. “Albuquerque, and New Mexico in general, has a history of tolerance and acceptance.”

Jews have a rich tradition of inclusion in New Mexico. The first mayor of Albuquerque, Henry N. Jaffa, was Jewish. So was Steve Schiff, a Republican who represented the state in the U.S. Congress from 1989-98. In 2012, Pauline Eisenstadt published a book about her experience serving in both the New Mexico House and Senate.

In the 19th century, Jewish merchants settled in smaller communities such as Las Vegas, N.M., and a Jewish man, in part because of his language skills, even became governor of Acoma Pueblo.