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Antisemitic behavior is on the rise nationally and in Tampa Bay

Bull statues on USF Tampa campus
Carl Lisciandrello
WUSF Public Media
Last week, a University of South Florida fraternity was temporarily suspended after a student allegedly drew a swastika on a Jewish pledge's head during a hazing incident.

There have been multiple local incidents recently, including one at the University of South Florida in Tampa and one in Sarasota.

Antisemitic attacks, harassment, and other incidents are on the rise across the nation —and especially in Florida.

There have been multiple antisemitic incidents in the Tampa Bay region in recent weeks — from a University of South Florida fraternity accused of hazing by drawing a swastika on a student to antisemitic fliers being distributed in a Sarasota neighborhood.

USF has temporarily suspended the fraternity involved, while Sarasota community members rallied in a city park recently to denounce hate.

Lonny Wilk is the interim regional director of Anti-Defamation League Florida. He said that 2020 — the last year data was analyzed — saw the third most antisemitic incidents since the organization began counting them in 1979.

Wilk says although there was a 4% decrease in incidents across the country in 2020, there was a 40% increase in Florida.

“That was particularly eye-opening,” he said. “If you think back to 2020, when we were initially going through the pandemic, for some months we were on lockdown. We as a society were having less human interaction; you would think that with less person-to-person contact there wouldn’t be a rise in antisemitic incidents.”

Instead of in-person attacks, “Zoom bombings,” where individuals took over virtual meetings and shared racist or frightful images, became popular.

In Florida, Wilk said, one pandemic funeral service on Zoom was “bombed“ by someone who shared “horrific anti-Semitic and Holocaust messages and images.”

"From the Jewish community's experience, we are seeing antisemitic incidents coming from the left and the right simultaneously," Wilk said.

Wilk adds the organization will release 2021's audit in May or June.

Last week, a USF fraternity was temporarily suspended after a student was accused of drawing a swastika on a Jewish pledge's head during a hazing incident. USF officials condemned the behavior of the Pi Kappa Phi frat.

While his organization applauds the university's response, Wilk said these kinds of incidents are concerning.

"The intent is usually to send a message of fear into the entire community,” he said. “And so when we see a rise in individual antisemitic incidents, it also has a reverberation effect into entire communities."

Wilk says ADL Florida reached out to USF to offer resources for dealing with bias-related incidents.

The fraternity's members were also invited to tour the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg and meet with a Holocaust survivor, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.