Ha’aretz reports that a man who knocked over about 120 headstones at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis last year doesn’t seem to have been motivated by hatred or antisemitism.
The article reports that Alzado Harris said “he acted alone, was angry over a personal matter and was under the influence of drugs when he committed the offense.” According to the article, “The fact that the cemetery was Jewish appeared to be coincidental.”
“The crime occurred at about the same time Jewish centers across the country received bomb threats,” Ha’aretz reports. The bomb threats subsequently turned out to be hoaxes by an Israeli teen. Some others were hoaxes by a man trying to get his girlfriend in trouble. Neither appear to have been motivated by antisemitism.
Police said, “There is no evidence that the crime was racially, ethnically or religiously motivated,” according to a local TV news report.
These incidents largely account for the alleged “rise in anti-Semitism” that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has reported, and that media repeat without question. Many of the other alleged “antisemitic” incidents concern actions on behalf of Palestinian human rights, which the ADL labels as antisemitism.
Reports of an alleged rise in antisemitism recently motivated the South Carolina legislature to pass bills against antisemitism. The legislation, however, codifies a new definition of antisemitism that includes criticism of Israel. This definition is then to be applied to the state’s public colleges and universities, likely causing certain information to be censored. The bill has not yet been signed into law. Such bills have also been introduced in other states.
Ha’aretz reports that Harris’s toppling of the headstones in the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City in February 2017 “caused more than $30,000 in damage and drew widespread attention, with Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens visiting in the days after it happened.”
The paper reports: “The Jewish Federation raised nearly $250,000 to restore the cemetery, and Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim social justice advocate from Philadelphia, helped raise another $160,000. ”
St. Louis’s River Front Times reports that “Harris has a long criminal record with convictions for burglary, car theft, drug possession, forgery and misdemeanor assault.”
It is not known whether the ADL will now revise its statements about the alleged rise in antisemitism. Since antisemitism, like all bigotry, is abhorrent, many groups feel it is crucial that accusations about it be accurate. The ADL is increasingly coming under criticism for including the bomb threats and Palestinian activism under that category.
Analysts have noted that the more antisemitism the ADL finds, the more donations it receives. Its net assets are approximately $100 million and its executive director’s annual compensation is over half a million dollars. A primary part of the ADL’s mission is to advocate for Israel.