Authorities are investigating the apparent vandalism of more than 100 headstones at a historically Jewish cemetery in a Missouri suburb, amid a wave of reported anti-Semitic threats sweeps the US.
University City Police are looking through Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery surveillance footage for suspects, but have yet to comment on whether they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
The report of the vandalism at the 123-year-old cemetery came at the same time some 11 Jewish Community Centres received bomb threats across the US. All bomb threats were determined to be hoaxes.
It also coincides with criticism of US President Donald Trump for his failure to condemn the rise of reported anti-Semitism crimes and harassment in the months following his election win.
Of the University City cemetery, just outside of St Louis, a regional director of the Anti-Defamation League said she reacted emotionally when she saw the damaged headstones.
“To see their lives desecrated this way is horrific,” Karen Aroesty told the St Louis Post-Dispatch. She did not speculate about whether the damage was caused by a hate-fuelled attack, but she did have suspicions as to the motivations behind the destruction of the headstones.
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The ADL tweeted Monday: “Have not seen desecration like this in region. Will work with law enforcement and community to support. Thanks for the solidarity and support.”
The St Louis Rabbinical Association denounced the destruction as “horrifying and disgraceful acts of vandalism” in a statement released on Facebook. “Planning is underway for a community clean-up effort,” they said.
Although the motivations behind the vandalisation of the cemetery are still unclear, it does little to allay the anxieties of Jewish communities in the US.
The JCC spoke to those tensions after the 11 bomb threats were determined not credible.
“While we are relieved that all such threats have proven to be hoaxes and that not a single person was harmed, we are concerned about anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” said David Posner, JCC director of strategic performance.
First Daughter Ivanka Trump issued a statement on Twitter in response to the JCC threats.
“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance,” she wrote. “We must protect our houses of worship and religious centres.”
But President Trump has remained silent on the topic, despite the backlash he received when asked about the rise of anti-Semitism during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Instead of responding to the reporter’s question, which he was not allowed to finish, Mr Trump instead took the opportunity to brag about his election win.
“We are very honoured by the victory that we had. Three-hundred and six Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220,” he said of his election win almost four months ago. “And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”
“As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren,” he added. “ I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. …
“You’re going to see a lot of love.”