Hate crimes have been on the rise worldwide and in the United States for years, with no signs of slowing down. This is true of most hate crimes — also called bias crimes — across a variety of demographics, including race, religion, sexuality, ability, and more, and almost no marginalized demographic has been spared from this uptick in violent discrimination.
That said, hate crimes tend to rise against specific groups in correlation with world events. Anti-Asian crimes saw a drastic increase in the first year or two after the Covid-19 epidemic began, and hate crimes against Muslims skyrocketed after 9/11 as well. And since the start of the recent Israel-Gaza war in October of 2023, hate crimes have been rising against both Jewish and Palestinians, as well as non-Palestinian Muslims that some perpetrators of hate crimes also target indiscriminately around the world and in the United States (for more information about recent trends in hate crimes in the USA, check out this article from ABC). This is even true in Southern Oregon, where there has been a higher rate of hate symbol-related graffiti, vandalism of Jewish art and religious artifacts, and other bias crimes in recent months.
Determining not just the statistical trends, but also the motivations behind these crimes, can help us understand how to better deter them, support those victimized by these attacks, and, for members of these communities, take care of themselves and find support. According to a mid-90s study used by the FBI in their work investigating hate-motivated crimes, people commit bias crimes for one or more of the following four reasons:
- Looking to take part in excitement, drama, or thrill by acting out against victims that the perpetrator believes society does not care about. This is the majority of hate crimes and often happens spur of the moment with young or intoxicated attackers, often in groups.
- Looking to defend against perceived takeovers from marginalized groups, such as anti-Mexican hate crimes due to a belief that Mexicans are taking jobs from Americans.
- Similar to the above reason, believing one must retaliate against real or perceived crimes committed by members of a marginalized group, such as vandalism of a Mosque after 9/11 or Anti-Asian crimes based on blame for Covid-19. Rather than a perceived nonspecific threat or dislike, this is centered on revenge for a specific act.
- Belief in a mission of eradicating a particular group due to their perceived inferiority or inhumanity, a call from a higher authority, or other mission-driven goal of wiping out an entire community.
The FBI study also found that to an extent, all four reasons, but especially the first three, coincide with a belief by the attacker that society supports their opinion, but is just too shamed or timid to act on these beliefs. And while we can’t know the motivations of everyone behind antisemitic, anti-Palestinian, or the wider anti-Muslim attacks that have happened since the Israel and Gaza conflict reignited, we can safely assume that, due to the recent uptick that many fall in line with this third, retaliatory reason, and maybe overlap with other reasons as well.
With an understanding of the motives behind these increased rates of bias crimes, what can outsiders do to deter these crimes and support the marginalized communities that are being attacked? Because perpetrators seem to be under the impression that society will support their actions, one of the biggest ways to help is to loudly and consistently send the message that as a community, we do not support discrimination of or attacks on marginalized groups. We create this community perception through individual acts, and that means that everyone has their part to play.
In the context of the Israel and Gaza war and the hate crimes that have spiked in the USA, this means going out of the way to be inclusive and accepting of Jewish and Palestinian communities and Muslim communities in general, since non-Palestinian Muslims have also seen a spike in hate crimes. Speaking up against Islamophobic or antisemitic comments, jokes, and beliefs from family, friends, and in the workplace sets the tone that this discrimination is not welcome nor tolerated. Encouraging the inclusion of religious traditions from both Islam and Judaism in community celebrations and events, as well as learning about and listening to members of these communities shows that they have a valued place in our society. And especially in relation to the idea of retaliatory hate crimes, where unrelated Jewish and Palestinian people are victimized, it is incredibly important to clearly show that we recognize individuals are not representative of their entire country, religion, or otherwise, may or may not support the actions taken by those in power within their communities, and should not be held responsible for the decisions that they have no control over or participation in making.
For those in our community and across the USA that are Jewish, Palestinian, or Muslim, these spikes in bias crimes don’t only impact the direct victims. In addition to being at increased risk themselves, studies have shown that a rise in hate crimes for a specific community can cause an increase in anxiety, fear, self-harm, and more, even if an individual doesn’t personally know a victim of a hate crime. For these community members, finding support, whether through friends, family, religious communities, or support groups can alleviate some of these indirect consequences. Similarly, having positive reflections of one’s community in the media and popular culture can counteract the feeling of being unwelcome in society.
Some of these steps to create change and seek out support happen through conversation and intentional actions, while others happen through education. Learning about, uplifting, and recommending the stories of individual Jewish and Palestinian people to others can help eliminate the idea that one person is representative of the communities they belong to, just like celebrating and enjoying media with marginalized community representation can counteract the negative impacts on those within the community itself. If you would like to learn more about individuals or see some unique and realistic representation within these communities as a step in this direction, check out this list.