Anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim incidents on the rise in Michigan

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By SOPHIA CERU
Capital News Service 

LANSING – As the Israel-Hamas war continues, Michigan is seeing a surge in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL.

Since the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, reported anti-Semitic hate incidents in the country have increased by 337%, according to the ADL.

Between Oct. 7 and Dec. 7, there were 2,031 incidents of anti-Semitism reported, according to the ADL. Of them, 1,411 were linked to the conflict occurring in Gaza and Israel. 

They include physical assaults, vandalism and anti-Israel rallies with terror-supported rhetoric, it said. 

There also were 2,171 reports of bias and requests for help between Oct. 7 and Dec. 7 from the Islamic community in the country, 172% more than the two-month average from 2022, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

These anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate incidents and crimes include workplace discrimination, hate speech and clear violations of individuals’ right to free speech and expression, the council said.

Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new budget proposal for 2024-25, the Department of Civil Rights would potentially see an additional $5 million to hire 29 new managers and investigators to handle unresolved and incoming civil rights complaints.

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups have criticized the department for a large backlog of cases.

Carey Saylor, a research and advocacy director at the council, says the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim crime surge is believed to be directly correlated to the overseas conflict.

The last significant rise in reported Muslim-related hate crimes and incidents was when former President Donald Trump signed a January 2017 executive order prohibiting most travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, according to the council. 

At the National Violent Crime Reduction Summit in December, Attorney Gen. Merrick Garland called for law enforcement agencies all over the country to be especially alert for crimes of terrorism and hate-fueled violence.

In one recent case, Seann Pietila of Pickford pleaded guilty to making a plethora of anti-Semitic threats online, according to Mark Totten, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. 

Pietila admitted sending multiple Instagram threats of a mass shooting targeted at Jewish people. His sentencing is set for March 4.

On Oct. 7, Carl Mintz of Farmington Hills was arrested for allegedly posting a threat on social media toward Palestinians in Dearborn. An anonymous tip alerted local police of the situation, which led to the arrest.

Mintz is being held in the Wayne County Jail on felony charges of making a false report or threat of terrorism and malicious use of a telecommunications system and has a court appearance scheduled for May 16, according to the jail’s website.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said.

After Mintz’s arrest, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Imam Dawud Walid, said dehumanization leads to violence and promotes a mob mentality to target people. 

Walid said some officials seem to choose sides about hate crimes and incidents occurring in his community. Releasing misinformation in the media contributes to the hate that Palestinian Americans are receiving, he said.

Since a Wall Street Journal opinion column about Dearborn came out, the Dearborn police have increased their presence, according to Col. James Grady II, the director of the State Police.

The column, “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital” by Steven Stalinsky, asserts that the Palestinian Americans of Dearborn support Hamas and hold pro-Hamas rallies. 

It discusses two incidents where Palestinian Americans allegedly praised Hamas. And claims the rallies celebrated the horrific events and endorsed the Oct. 7 attacks.

Police have begun patrolling Muslim and Arab-populated neighborhoods more frequently and increased their presence at schools and places of worship, according to the Dearborn Police Department. 

Grady said, “We have taken higher precautions and increased our level of security in Dearborn,” following the column in the Wall Street Journal.

“We monitor social media to look for potential threats that could harm people in our communities,” Grady said. “Everybody deserves public safety, regardless of what they practice and believe in.” 

Anthony Lewis, the director of community engagement and education at the Department of Civil Rights, said, “We cannot predict the future.”

“But through our work in communities across the state and with our MI Response to Hate campaign, we are focused on raising awareness of the problem as it exists now, educating communities and policy leaders on what constitutes a hate crime or a bias incident and offering resources to communities experiencing hate,” Lewis said.

He said the department hosts an annual conference where community leaders, law enforcement professionals, and policy experts share best practices and form alliances to combat hate and bias.