Graffiti found Saturday morning on the Walt Whitman High School sign marked at least the fourth time since August that antisemitic vandalism has defaced a site in Montgomery County, according to officials.
Federal, state and local leaders and Jewish groups condemned the spate of incidents in the county – amid a national trend of growing antisemitic activity, even as the county has awarded safety grants to houses of worship and adopted a resolution to combat antisemitism.
The words “Jews Not Welcome” were found on the school sign on Whittier Avenue in Bethesda, according to a letter Principal Christopher Dodd sent Saturday to the Whitman community. Police Chief Marcus Jones said in a news release that officers were called about 8 a.m. Saturday for a report of the spray-painted vandalism.
No one has been arrested, and an investigator is seeking images of any suspects. Jones said the department was coordinating with the Anti-Defamation League and that police would be upping patrols of schools, places of worship and community centers.
“Acts of hate and bigotry are on the rise across the country and in Montgomery County. Anti-Semitism and any forms of hate/bias are not welcome in our community,” he wrote. “As a community, we must work together to protect the diversity that our county offers, and we need to reject anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind.”
Previously, the Washington, D.C., regional office of the Anti-Defamation League reported that antisemitic symbols were discovered Friday at a bus stop bench at Westfield Montgomery mall; County Council President Evan Glass specified that the vandalism was a swastika.
In November, graffiti, including hangman figures, a swastika and the words “No mercy for Jews,” was discovered on the Bethesda Trolley Trail in the Wildwood Manor section of North Bethesda and on a brick wall at Old Georgetown Road and Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda.
In August, police found swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti in three places along the Trolley Trail and an antisemitic poster in Kensington.
Besides the vandalism, antisemitic flyers were deposited in June at a bus stop in Silver Spring’s Kemp Mill neighborhood, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population. In March, swastikas and the term “KKK” were found drawn in pencil on a desk at Tilden Middle School in Rockville. Antisemitic flyers were also distributed in December 2021 in the Forest Estate neighborhood of Silver Spring.
In recent history, the number of bias incidents tracked by Montgomery County police has varied widely, from a low of 23 in 2015 to a high of 38 in 2017; last year 29 such incidents were recorded.
However, the ADL reports that antisemitic activities in the United States are at an all-time high. Last year, 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism were reported to the ADL– a 34% increase from 2020 and the greatest number of incidents the group recorded since it began its tracking effort in 1979. The ADL reported that antisemitic incidents at K-12 schools increased 106% from 2020 to 2021.
The Department of Homeland Security warned in late November of a domestic threat environment in which online actors try to stoke real-life violence against Jewish people and many other minority groups.
“Recent incidents have highlighted the enduring threat to faith-based communities, including the Jewish community,” the bulletin said. It cited a November incident in which a New Jersey man “was arrested for sharing a manifesto online that threatened attacks on synagogues. The individual admitted to writing the document, in which he claimed to be motivated by the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and hatred towards Jewish people.”
On Wednesday, according to media reports, a 63-year-old man was assaulted in New York’s Central Park by a fortysomething man who made antisemitic statements, then yelled out “Kanye 2024,” an apparent reference to the rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West) and his antisemitic commentary. Ye, who recently dined at Mar-a-Lago with former President Donald Trump and the white supremacist Nick Fuentes, was briefly restored this fall to Twitter, where he shared sentiments such as, “There’s a lot of things that I love about Hitler” and that he would go “Death Con 3 on Jewish people.”
The latest incidents in Montgomery County drew fresh condemnation and calls to make the county “no place for hate.”
The ADL DC, the American Jewish Committee DC, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington released a joint statement after the Whitman vandalism was discovered, saying, “As organizations on the front lines and working together to combat this hatred, we feel our community’s increasing alarm and fear. Our region is known for celebrating and respecting diversity and is home to one of the largest Jewish populations nationwide. We cannot normalize or become inured to the proliferation of such heinous acts.”
A statement from Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight said, “MCPS’ mission is to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment that celebrates the diversity of our global community and all cultural backgrounds. This hurtful behavior, along with any acts of discrimination, have no place in our school community and will not be tolerated.”
“We are disgusted and angry to learn about yet another display of hate targeting the Jewish community in Montgomery County,” County Council members said in their statement. “Our nation continues to experience a deeply troubling rise in antisemitism, and we must continue to join together to denounce these acts of hate here at home.”
The statement also pointed to the unanimous passage last month of a resolution “reaffirming our commitment to address antisemitism and protect our Jewish community from these awful acts of hate. These acts are not only a desecration of public spaces but hurtful and damaging to the entire Montgomery County community.”
Gov.-Elect Wes Moore and Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Twitter condemned the vandalism and called for solidarity in the face of hate. County Executive Marc Elrich and Rep. Jamie Raskin both pointed to the especially hurtful timing of the vandalism.
“Our thoughts are with Whitman families & staff,” Elrich posted on Twitter. “On Shabbat, and right before Hanukkah, it is disheartening that our Jewish community continues to be targets of hate.”
Raskin wrote, “Sickened and horrified about another episode of antisemitic vandalism in our community, at Walt Whitman High School—on Shabbat and just before Hanukkah. Sending love and solidarity to Whitman students, families, faculty and staff. Hate won’t win in MoCo.”
The county in January awarded $700,000 in grants to protect houses of worship and nonprofits, and it conducts assessments and classes such as Securing Houses of Worship training. After the antisemitism resolution was passed in November, Councilmember Andrew Friedson called a community meeting to discuss antisemitism. There, police asked for more community help in identifying perpetrators–such as with security camera footage–and advocates requested more lighting and cameras in public areas.
In his letter Saturday, Principal Dodd noted that Whitman’s Jewish Student Union and staff had conducted a lesson Wednesday on confronting antisemitism.
“All students engaged in this learning and heard student testimonies to the Jewish student experience at Walt Whitman High School,” Dodd wrote. “While we are deeply disturbed and disappointed by what occurred today, it will not deter us from our collective mission to end antisemitism and intolerance and build a safe and inclusive school community where ALL students can thrive.”