Rabbi Shaul Hamaoui’s synagogue, the Persian Hebrew Congregation in the Chicago suburbs, had never been vandalized while he was spiritual leader for more than a decade.
But that changed on Sunday afternoon when a window was smashed and surveillance footage captured two people, one carrying a stick and the other holding a “Freedom for Palestine” sign.
No one was at the synagogue at the time, and police in Skokie, Ill. Said they were investigating the hate crime vandalism as the search for perpetrators continued.
The incident rocked the Skokie Jewish community, which represents nearly 30 percent of the city’s population, and members of the Illinois Jewish Legislative Caucus condemned it as an “attack” on a congregation that is a “Visible symbol of Jewish life”.
The incident, however, is not an outlier. From New York to Los Angeles, an apparent increase in anti-Semitic vandalism and incidents have been reported to police and shared on social media as deadly fighting escalated over the past two weeks in the Gaza Strip between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mosques in the United States have also reported damage in recent days.
And despite a bilateral ceasefire announcement between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Friday morning, a move quickly hailed by President Joe Biden and other world leaders, tensions continued to grow. ignite in the United States overnight Palestinian protests.
“We understand that every nationality is alongside their country and that there is freedom of speech in America – we respect that,” Hamaoui said. “But that’s not fair. Although there is conflict overseas and we think on both sides, it shouldn’t lead to violence in America.”
New York Police are investigating an incident in which someone threw two commercial fireworks displays during pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian opposition protests Thursday night in Times Square. One person sustained minor injuries, New York Police Department Detective Annette Shelton said. Police made at least two dozen arrests during the protest, although the circumstances were not immediately clear.
In addition, the department’s hate crimes task force is investigating an assault Thursday night against a Jewish man in Times Square after video of the apparent attack involving a group of people was shared on social media.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday he was asking the state police hate crimes task force to help him with the investigation. Other videos show clashes in the nearby Diamond District, where Jewish shop owners have long been present, between passers-by in the streets and people in cars carrying Palestinian flags.
“I unequivocally condemn these brutal attacks on visibly Jewish New Yorkers and we will not tolerate the violent harassment and intimidation of anti-Semitic gangs,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Former Arizona congressman Gabby Giffords tweeted Thursday that her Tucson synagogue had been vandalized and that “hatred had no place in Arizona.” NBC News could not immediately confirm details of the incident.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, said its preliminary research revealed an increase in incidents of anti-Semitism online and in the real world in the United States amid the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
A Twitter scan between May 7 and 14 showed more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right,” the group’s Center on Extremism said in data shared Thursday.
In addition, the group said it received more than 190 reports of possible anti-Semitic incidents in the week after the fighting began, up from 131 incidents the week before. While the majority of pro-Palestinian protests in the United States have “remained within the bounds of free and civil discourse,” the ADL said, it noted signs that invoke anti-Jewish tropes and analogies about the Holocaust.
“As violence between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate, we are witnessing a dangerous and drastic rise in anti-Jewish hatred right here at home,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The recent increase follows anti-Semitic incidents that have already increased in recent years. Last year, 327 incidents were reported in Jewish institutions, including synagogues, schools and community centers, up 40% from 234 in 2019, according to the group.
Research from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, has found spikes in anti-Jewish prejudice during major conflicts in the Middle East in recent years, as well as an increase in anti-Jewish prejudice. Muslims after incidents such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead.
Brian Levin, director of the center, said incidents of bias against American Jews worsened in 2018 around the midterm elections, “when sectarian anti-Jewish conspiracy theories were widely publicized” and with l attack that year on a Pittsburgh synagogue that claimed the lives of 11 people. people.
“Unfortunately, Jews in the United States are targeted in both international and domestic conflicts,” he said in an email.
But Muslims are also grappling with acts of vandalism and bias.
Shelton, of the NYPD, said investigators found spray-painted “hate graffiti” on the front door of the Tayba Islamic Center in Brooklyn on May 13 after receiving a call for criminal mischief. The Hate Crimes Task Force has been notified and the investigation is ongoing.
The graffiti reportedly read “Death to Palestine” and was discovered as worshipers celebrated Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Earlier this week, a Long Island mosque was found vandalized with graffiti and a sacred flag on the burnt property, Suffolk County authorities said. The investigation is continuing.
Salam Al-Marayati, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American Muslim national advocacy group in Los Angeles, said the attacks on Jews and Muslims and their places of worship are “despicable” and that violence should not be not spill over into the streets.
He said he was troubled by reports this week in Los Angeles of anti-Semitic remarks directed at Jewish diners by people who were also shouting pro-Palestinian messages.
There was also a report of men carrying Palestinian flags and shouting from cars and physically assaulting Jewish men on the sidewalk. Los Angeles Police said the incident was being investigated as a hate crime and no arrests were made immediately.
“As a city, we condemn the organized and anti-Semitic attack last night,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted Wednesday. “Jewish Angelenos, like all residents, should always feel safe in our city.”
Al-Marayati said the majority of pro-Palestinian protests have been peaceful and letting the angry rhetoric overtake the larger message “will not affect change in any way.”
“What we saw the other night on video doesn’t help any cause,” he added. “Explaining and articulating the aspirations and struggle of the Palestinian people is enough. You can be better than any violence or hatred.”