The Jewish advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League says it will no longer count the appearance of a swastika as an automatic act of anti-Semitism.
“The swastika has morphed into a universal symbol of hate,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the ADL. “Today it’s used as an epithet against African-Americans, Hispanics and gays, as well as Jews, because it is a symbol which frightens.”
In the past, whenever a swastika appeared, the ADL would include it in its count of anti-Semitic incidents. Now, the act will be examined to see if there is any anti-Jewish sentiment.
“A year ago, there was a swastika put on Plymouth Rock,” Foxman said. “We saw it as a symbol of hatred against America, maybe against immigrants, I don’t know. But to count that swastika as an anti-Semitic incident would not be accurate.”
The swastika began its life as a sacred symbol to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, But Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party co-opted it, and it became a symbol of anti-Jewish hatred. It is still used today by neo-Nazi groups.
“The swastika is shorthand for every racist and bigot on the planet,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said. “It is amazing that 60 or 70 years later that symbol has not lost any of its potency.”
Using its new accounting, the ADL still logged 1,211 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2009. That was down from 1,352 incidents in 2008, in part because of the new approach to swastikas.