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When Israeli-Palestinian conflicts erupt, threats against U.S. Jews and Muslims surge

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ever since the latest outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East, law enforcement officials have warned about a surge in threats against Jewish and Muslim American communities. Now, it's a pattern that historically holds true every time a conflict erupts between Israelis and Palestinians, but extremism experts are concerned that it could be worse this time around. NPR correspondent Odette Yousef reports on domestic extremism. She's here with us now to tell us more. Odette, what are we seeing so far?

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Well, anecdotally, we know about certain incidents, A. In Illinois, there was the killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American boy. The suspect, his landlord, is alleged to have targeted him and his mom out of Islamophobic hate. There have been other reports of physical attacks on Jews and Muslims and arrests of individuals threatening both. But unfortunately, A, we can't turn to data yet on this. It takes a long time for hate crime numbers to come in, and even then, they're not very reliable. And that's particularly true for Muslim and Arab communities in the U.S. You know, historically, their engagement with law enforcement after 9/11 has been fraught. You know, they're accustomed to the FBI and police taking an interest in them to surveil their activities rather than to keep them safe.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So numbers can be hard to get. If that's not the case, then what can we look at?

YOUSEF: Well, I spoke to Brian Levin about this. He's behind the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

BRIAN LEVIN: I think historic information can help us. What we've seen, for instance, in 1994, after the Hebron massacre terror attack by a Jewish extremist in the Holy Land, that following month, we saw FBI figures show a decade high for anti-Jewish hate crimes and a homicide in New York.

YOUSEF: And, you know, typically, these surges subside after a few weeks. But Levin is worried that this time will be different because he says we're in a kind of perfect storm.

MARTÍNEZ: Perfect storm in what way?

YOUSEF: It's coming up on a presidential election year again. And Levin said that hate crimes have gone up every single presidential election year since 1992. And we've seen already that some candidates, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have made claims about Palestinians that have kept the temperature around this conflict high. We're also seeing extremist groups are exploiting this moment. There have been a few instances of neo-Nazis going to pro-Palestinian rallies to try to recruit on the left. Experts doubt they'll have much success there.

But most concerning is we're seeing an unprecedented acceptance of an extremist doctrine called replacement theory, especially on the right. This is a baseless conspiracy theory that claims that Democrats or elites or Jews are intentionally replacing white Americans with immigrants. It's anti-Semitic, it's xenophobic, and it's also Islamophobic because the root of the doctrine is actually in Europe, where it originated as a nativist backlash to Muslim immigration.

So all of this together is really worrying because it's paired with a growing support for political violence in the United States, particularly among supporters of Donald Trump. And so we're worried that we may see extremists try to recruit and bait people into increasingly dangerous activity.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Odette Yousef. Thank you, Odette.

YOUSEF: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.