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The FBI is investigating an anti-Semitic hack that left a Jewish school’s website overrun with Holocaust references and swastikas

jewish school anti semtiic cyberattack

  • The website for a Jewish high school in New York was hacked on Monday and overrun by swastikas and other Holocaust imagery.
  • The FBI is taking the lead on the investigation into the cyberattack, police said.
  • Screenshots of the attack shared on Instagram appeared to show that hackers sent threatening messages directly to students using the school's portal. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hanna, a 17-year-old high school senior at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in New York, was looking forward to celebrating her Jewish school's Hanukkah spirit week on Monday. Then, some of her friends began receiving frightening emails. The emails, apparently sent by hackers from high school faculty email addresses, included racist and anti-Semitic slurs, according to two such notes Insider reviewed. 

"We all got really scared," Hanna, whose last name Insider is not including because she's a minor, said in an interview on Wednesday evening. Then, things quickly "started to get worse," Hanna said, as the school's public website was overrun by swastikas, other Nazi symbols, anti-Jewish slurs, and Holocaust imagery.

The anti-Semitic cyberattack occurred Monday, and as of Wednesday, the website for the school had been taken down. A representative for the Nassau County Police Department told Insider on Wednesday that the FBI had taken the lead on the investigation. 

"Last night the Nassau County Police Department commenced an investigation into disturbing and malicious communications that involve online attacks against our Jewish community," Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a statement released Tuesday. "These attacks will never be tolerated and I have assigned extra resources due to these anti-Semitic remarks and threats."

Emails sent to addresses associated with the high school on Wednesday were returned to the sender. A representative for the North Shore Hebrew Academy's middle school campus did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Hanna told Insider that while students were at first warned that their private information may have been compromised, the school later said it believed everything was "under control." 

The attack came on the fifth night of Hanukkah, a celebratory eight-day Jewish holiday that's also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanna, who said this was her first time experiencing anti-Semitism, said it was particularly upsetting to experience during the holiday. "It was supposed to be a really happy week," she said. 

A representative for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nongovernmental organization that tracks and fights anti-Semitism, told Insider that the agency was working with authorities and the school. 

Scott Richman, the ADL's regional director for New York and New Jersey, told Newsweek that the attack "was clearly meant to terrorize students, teachers, parents, and administrators." 

Screenshots purporting to show the cyberattack were posted on Instagram by the Yeshiva University Political Action Club, a student organization at the Jewish university in New York. The post circulated Instagram throughout the week and gained wide attention.

The screenshots show the Jewish high school's website with pictures of Nazis in World War II, references to concentration camps, and a disturbing passage referring to the school as the "North Shore Concentration Camp" that referred to Jewish people as "rats." Six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust, many of whom died in concentration or death camps before the end of World War II. 

The screenshots also show that hackers appeared to send threatening and offensive messages directly to students using the school's digital portal. Insider is not including the post in this article, as some of the information it includes is unconfirmed. 

There is evidence that anti-Semitism has been on the rise in recent years. The ADL said in May that 2019 had the "highest level of antisemitic incidents" in the US since the ADL started tracking such events in 1979. There was a 56% increase in anti-Semitic assaults on American Jews when compared with the previous year. 

Digital anti-Semitic attacks have continued to occur during the pandemic. In April, a Holocaust Remembrance Day Zoom call for Jewish students in Europe was hijacked by dozens of Zoom-bombers making Holocaust references and drawing swastikas on the shared screen with the call participants. 

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