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A French police officer patrols in front of the Gambetta high school during an evacuation after a bomb threat in Arras, northeastern France, on 16 October 2023, three days after a teacher was killed and two other people were severely wounded in a knife attack at the Gambetta high school in a suspectged act of terror. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel–Hamas War Ratchets Up Extremist Tensions Worldwide

There is “no question” that violent extremist threats are on the rise, said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a speech on Saturday.

“History has been witness to anti-Semitic and other forms of violent extremism for far too long. Whether that be from foreign terrorist organizations, or those inspired by them, or domestic violent extremists motivated by their own racial animus, the targeting of a community because of their faith is totally unacceptable,” Wray said in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego on 14 October.

Wray warned listeners to be on the lookout for threats, “especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events to commit violence of their own.”

The FBI director is not alone in warning law enforcement and security professionals about emerging and escalating threats of violence in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent war, and the tensions from the Middle East continue to spill over into communities worldwide.

On 13 October, a teacher was killed and three people wounded in a terrorist stabbing at a French high school. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said there was “no doubt” a link between the attack in Arras, France, and the Israel-Hamas conflict, the BBC reported. The suspect, who is now in custody, was under surveillance by French security services over suspected Islamic radicalization. Today, dozens of staff and pupils had to evacuate the school due to an online bomb threat, Le Monde reported.

France mobilized 7,000 extra soldiers for increased security patrols and raised the nation’s security alert to “attack emergency.” In separate security alerts shortly after the stabbing, the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles were evacuated, due to a suspicious note about a risk and a suspicious package, respectively.

In the United States, a man in Chicago, Illinois, allegedly stabbed and killed a 6-year-old boy because he was Muslim. Joseph Czuba, 71, allegedly targeted the Palestinian-American boy and his mother—who were his tenants—because of their religion and the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel, according to the BBC. The man has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, hate crimes, and aggravated battery.

In Brooklyn, New York, a Palestinian man was attacked by men waving Israeli flags and screaming anti-Palestinian comments. Anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attacks were also reported in the city, including when two juvenile boys pointed fake guns at a local synagogue. The New York Jewish community is the largest outside of Israel, The New York Times noted, and the attacks in Israel put many Jewish New Yorkers on edge.

“Escalating violence in Israel and Palestine has inflamed tensions here at home. But we cannot allow these conflicts to cause violence or hateful rhetoric on the streets of New York City. No one deserves to be attacked for their identity or their beliefs, and we won’t stand for it in our community or anywhere,” said city council member Justin Brannan and state senator Andrew Gounardes in a joint statement.

Anti-Semitic incidents were already on the rise before the Hamas attacks earlier this month. According to an annual audit by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), incidents rose 36 percent in 2022 in the United States, with 3,697 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault targeting Jewish people or communities last year—the highest number recorded since the ADL started tracking incidents in 1979.

According to an Axios review of data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, conflicts in the Middle East involving Israel frequently lead to big jumps in hate crimes in the United States, especially anti-Semitic attacks. Authorities across the country have already increased security at Jewish sites, temples, and schools.

Meanwhile, American anti-Semites are out in force—people were seen displaying swastikas at rallies or on freeway overpasses. Multiple California city councils had to cancel remote public comment options after far-right extremist trolls hijacked meetings. The ADL also warned that some fringe-left groups are aligning with anti-Zionist organizations “by expressing support for Hamas’s atrocities in the name of ‘resistance’ and ‘liberation.’… These groups are also helping to organize in-person, anti-Israel events, where participants are sharing further support for terrorism and violence, as well as expressing anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Intelligence analysts warned that Hamas was calling for a “day of rage” in response to Israeli counterstrikes on Hamas in Gaza, CBS News reported. One threat research group, Insikt, warned in a report that, “Violent extremists in North America, Europe, and Australia are likely to plan physical attacks and increase virtual harassment campaigns against Jewish and Muslim communities—as well as entities perceived to be related to them—in the wake of Hamas' October 7, 2023, hybrid attack and incursion into Israel and Israel’s military response.”

Many intelligence and law enforcement groups across the United States recommended reinforcing security and threat assessment measures around houses of worship and other cultural properties.

Anti-Semitic statements and acts are also being recorded worldwide. In Paris, 189 anti-Semitic acts were recorded in a single week, according to an ADL tracker of incidents related to the war. In Colombia, the Israeli Embassy was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. In the United Kingdom, Jewish security group Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 89 incidents that it classed as “anti-Jewish hate” between 7 and 10 October—an increase of 324 percent compared to the same period in 2022. Two Jewish faith schools in north London closed due to security concerns. The UK incidents included six assaults, three instances of damage to Jewish property, 66 incidents involving abusive behavior, and 22 online actions, Sky News reported.

Online hate surged shortly after the initial attack on Israel, with both Jewish communities and Palestinians targeted, USA Today reported. The ADL counted 347 messages on Telegram in an 18-hour window on Saturday, 7 October—a 488 percent increase from the day before. More than 50 million posts about the Hamas attack flooded X (formerly Twitter) in the weekend after the attack, but the platform gutted its content moderation team after it was acquired by Elon Musk, and critics note that the new hands-off approach enables posts involving hate speech, misinformation, and violence to spread rapidly. This month, those posts include graphic pictures of murdered civilians and Israeli soldiers, anti-Semitic hate speech, and anti-Palestinian messages.

“When it comes to serious crises like these where you’re going to see the worst of the worst types of violent content, gore, incitement to violence, it’s really incumbent on social media companies to coordinate across platforms in order to make sure that the platforms play the minimal amount of role possible in inflaming further violence,” Daniel Kelley, director of strategy and operations at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Tech and Society told USA Today.

For guidance and other material from ASIS International on how to navigate multinational crises and conflict, visit our resources page here.