ATbar Terrorist Attacks Against Jews & Israelis in the US 1969-2016

Terrorist Attacks Against Jews & Israelis in the US 1969-2016

22/12/2016 | by Barsky, Yehudit  

Published by Community Security Service

Executive Summary

This research is an attempt to catalogue violent attacks and terrorist incidents against Jews and Israelis in the United States from 1969 to 2016.[1] It is important to note that this report focuses only on the most serious incidents, and that they occurred within the context of many thousands of other anti-Semitic acts. Indeed, of the 1,354 anti-religious hate crimes[2] recorded by the FBI in 2015 alone, 51.3%[3]  - 695 incidents4[4] - targeted Jews. The FBI hate crimes statistics report demonstrated that Jews are the most targeted religious group in the U.S. This is a consistent finding of the FBI report over many years.

This catalogue is intended to raise awareness within the American Jewish community of the real challenges that face and continue to confront our community’s security and well-being.

This report catalogues 104 incidents whose analysis revealed:

  • The primacy of ideology: Of the incidents where motivation can be ascertained, white supremacist and radical Islamist ideologies were a central influencing factor. Periods of increased levels of attack are also associated with the growth of extremist movements and terrorist organizations connected to white supremacy and radical Islamist terrorism.
  • Synagogues are most targeted: The overwhelming majority of attacks (51%) were carried out against Jewish houses of worship, followed by Jewish communal institutions (14%), Jewish persons (13%), and educational institutions (10%).
  • The modality of incidents varies: Arson, shootings, and explosive devices were used in about equal number.
  • Increase in severity, slight decrease in frequency: Although the total number of attacks has declined slightly, recent incidents have been increasingly lethal and have, or would have, claimed many more victims.

As a result, several lessons and recommendations are apparent:

  • Jewish targets often serve as precursors to larger attacks: Perpetrators of well-known larger attacks, such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were first involved in anti-Jewish incidents.
  • Awareness is critical: In many of these incidents, perpetrators conducted pre-operational surveillance. Training and engagement of community members to detect suspicious activity is thus essential.
  • A need to invest in community security infrastructure: The Jewish community can ill afford passivity and apathy against security threats. The community should broaden its understanding of what effective security entails, and invest in initiatives that provide tangible results. Foremost amongst these strategies is ensuring community members have the training and capacity to assist in securing their own communities, and partnering more closely with law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, much as we do not care to admit it to ourselves, the threats are real; there have been too many incidents to deny that. Now in the second decade of the twenty-first century, we find ourselves in an era where those who promote anti-Jewish rhetoric and instigation have the technical tools to reach a broader audience in less time than ever before. In fact, as recently as March 2016, the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) publicly encouraged its followers to attack Jews and their allies, “wherever they find them.”

It is vital that the American Jewish community, together with our law enforcement partners, learn the lessons of the past, understand the nature of the challenges arrayed against it, and take the proper precautions to ensure that violent acts against Jews and Jewish institutions can be prevented in the future. In doing so, we will work towards fulfilling the vision of CSS—Making Jewish communities safer and stronger.

[1] The chronology of incidents is based on open source research, including earlier reports by the International Institute for Counterterrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center, RAND Corporation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Community Security Trust, and Secure Community Network.

[2] 2 Hate Crimes Statistics 2015, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, November 2016, 

[3] Ibid

[4] Table 4 - Offense Type by Bias Motivation, Hate Crimes Statistics 2015, US Department of Justice, FBI, 2016, 

Yehudit Barsky is Chair of Community Security Strategy of the Community Security Service’s Council of Experts. She advises the organization on issues related to safety, security, and counter-terrorism, and is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Formerly the Director of the Division on Middle East and International Terrorism at American Jewish Committee, Ms. Barsky specializes in issues that impact the security of the Jewish community in the United States..

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