Alleged vandals arrested in New Zealand Jewish cemetery attack

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Police in New Zealand arrested two men over an anti-Semitic attack on a historic Jewish cemetery.

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A 19-year-old and a 23-year-old were arrested in Auckland Sunday and charged with willful damage.

One will appear in Auckland District Court Monday and the other on Tuesday. The maximum penalty for the crime is seven years in prison.

New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman said police telephoned him Sunday afternoon to convey the news. “It is pleasing to see such prompt action,” he told JTA. “We hope that this is an isolated incident. The prosecution of the perpetrators will, hopefully, send the message that this type of behavior is totally unacceptable to all New Zealanders.”

The arrests come three days after the discovery of about 20 desecrated gravestones, many which were spray painted with swastikas and the number “88” – code for “Heil Hitler.” One gravestone had the words “F*** Israel” emblazoned on it while another said “Don’t f*** with us.”

Police say there may be more arrests, according to local media reports.

Chabad of New Zealand director Rabbi Mendel Goldstein said Oct. 19 after he visited the desecrated cemetery: “This was a deliberate and senseless criminal act by hate-filled cowards.”

A spokesperson for Israeli ambassador to New Zealand Shemi Tzur said in a statement that the embassy condemns the “vile act.”

“Sixty-seven years after the liberation of the Jewish people from the death camps and ghettoes of Europe, expressions of blind hatred for Jews and for the sole Jewish state resurface,” the statement said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister John Key, whose mother escaped the rise of the Nazis in Austria on the eve of the Holocaust, said: “The vandalism is appalling. The desecration of graves is to be condemned.”

About 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand, with the majority of them in Auckland.

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