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Washington state sees rise in anti-Arab, anti-Jewish hate incidents amid Israel-Hamas War

caption: Protesters lock hands during a Jewish Voice for Peace rally outside the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building while demanding that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Seattle.
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Protesters lock hands during a Jewish Voice for Peace rally outside the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building while demanding that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Seattle.
(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The Council on American Islamic Relations’ Washington state chapter (CAIR-Washington) has tracked 17 incidents of Arabs and Muslims being harassed or losing their jobs in the past month.

Separately, the Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest reports there have been 53 incidents of violence, harassment, and vandalism targeting Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian communities in Washington state since October. Twenty-seven of those have been antisemitic.

The incidents are part of a larger trend of growing antisemitism and Islamophobia nationwide and around the world since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

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CAIR-Washington spokesperson Katie Walker said the 17 bias incident reports the group has received since Oct. 7 reflect a more than a 400% increase since this time last year. The cases include online harassment against people who practice Islam or are perceived as Arab, and who have expressed sympathy for the growing humanitarian crisis of the Palestinians.

“The level of rhetoric and dehumanization that's been happening in this past month is pretty extreme. And folks within our Muslim communities are saying it feels as bad as, if not worse than after 9/11,” Walker said.

The harassment is just words for now, she said. But CAIR-Washington’s lawyers have put victims in contact with the FBI because of increasing concerns. One of those people is a doctor from the Seattle area. She practices Islam and her family is from Egypt.

The doctor, who KUOW has agreed not to name due to safety concerns, started posting online two years ago about what she calls the genocide of Palestinians. She said she formed much of her opinion through her schooling and by speaking to Palestinians about their experiences. She has tens of thousands of followers online.

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The trouble started when people with anonymous social media accounts started hounding her.

“If you're trying to end a conversation and be like, ‘Hey, I'm done with this conversation,’ And they show up in another thread …screenshotting what you're saying and putting it on another post, right? That is not stable behavior,” the doctor said. “That’s harassment.”

But it didn’t stop there. She would get private messages from others warning her that a group of people were planning to harm her — and were looking for her personal information. Others, however, began reaching out to the doctor to warn her about the doxxers so she could protect herself.

“Bad actors do not understand that they're in mixed company. And there are a lot of eyes on them watching exactly what they're doing, protecting me and sending me information, even people I've never met before,” she said.

Bias and hate often goes underreported, and the number of incidents could be higher than what’s documented, Walker said. Some of the reports CAIR-Washington has received also include bullying at schools and business owners being harassed. People have also lost their jobs.

The doctor said it can be hard for Muslim and Arab people to seek help when they’re being targeted, given the history of what she calls hatred toward Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. She said other religious and ethnic groups may be more inclined to reach out to organizations that can help them.

CAIR-Washington connects people with experience’s like the doctor’s with the FBI.

The FBI has had a complicated relationship with Arab and Muslim communities on the West Coast, spying on them after the 9/11 attacks and placing Seattle faith leaders on watchlists. Steve Bernd, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Seattle office, said in an email that the agency has worked to address that tension by finding other ways to connect with to Muslim and Arabic communities, like working with CAIR-Washington.

“The FBI takes very seriously crimes that are potentially hate-motivated because they are not only an attack on the victim, but are meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community,” Bernd said. “However we also need to consider First Amendment protected free speech when examining these reports. Please keep in mind, no matter how offensive to some, we are keenly aware that expressing a view is not a crime itself. A true threat, however, is not protected speech.”

Bernd’s office is currently investigating suspicious packages sent to at least four Seattle-area Jewish institutions since last week.

RELATED: Suspicious packages sent to Seattle synagogues part of national rise in threats to Jewish, Arab, and Muslim communities

The Anti-Defamation League in the Pacific Northwest tracks data on violence, harassment, and vandalism targeting different communities including Jewish, Arab, and Muslims throughout the states of Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska.

Stephen Paolini, the group's associate regional director, said the organization is generally notified about two to five hate incidents per month in Washington. Last month, it received nearly 30 reports, “which is a really staggering increase,” he said.

“This has been a really concerning moment. I know from friends and colleagues in organizations serving the Muslim community [and] they’re tracking similar data,” Paolini added.

That number doesn’t include criticism of the Israeli government, which has been at the center of recent protests.

Paolini said he’s sure that the violence happening in the Gaza strip opens people here up to violence. But there’s another problem — one that’s been increasingly concerning over the past few years.

“What we're seeing is that organized extremist groups, particularly neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, are taking advantage of this moment of heightened antisemitism and Islamophobia in order to carry out … bolder acts of violence against these communities,” Paolini said. He said the Anti-Defamation League will work to understand the specifics behind last month’s hate incident surge.

Seattle Rabbi David Basior is thinking about how to keep his community safe as they advocate for Palestinans and a ceasefire. His congregation at the Kadima Reconstruction Community isn’t among the local synagogues that have received mysterious packages, but he’s concerned about his colleagues who have.

He said traditional systems of public safety tend to exclude certain groups, who may not find it ideal to engage with law enforcement or private security forces.

“I now serve a community that is at some cross section of queer, disabled, and BIPOC,” Basior said.

Basior said his congregation has a very different relationship with police and private security, which other Jewish and Muslim congregations have relied on, but that doesn't mean that his community isn’t protected. He works within a network of advocates in Seattle trying to define safety for themselves and their communities.

“Our safety comes by being in solidarity with our neighbors, and by asking for solidarity from our neighbors,” he said. “We take care of each other when there are threats, but we also take care of each other when someone's sick.”

He said he plans to tap into old advocate community covenants even more as the war abroad continues — and hopes to see a stronger community safety network forming for local Jewish, Muslim, and other groups. Additionally, Basior said he’s in search of grants to help fund de-escalation lessons, high-visibility vests, and walkie-talkies for members of his congregation.

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