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‘Do More.’ Jewish Leaders Are Demanding White House Action After Another Cemetery Was Vandalized

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Jewish and Muslim leaders in the U.S. are calling for the federal government and local law enforcement agencies to “do more” after another Jewish cemetery in the country was desecrated over the weekend.

More than 100 tombstones were toppled over, and some were cracked in half, at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia late Saturday, police said. The vandalism comes days after a similar attack was carried out at a historic Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and amid a spate of bomb threats made to dozens of Jewish community centers.

“For the second time in a week, a group of cowards vandalized a Jewish cemetery, desecrating the resting place of people who could not defend themselves,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “We call upon the White House to do more than speak words about anti-Semitism. We demand a plan of action.”

It may be difficult to investigate anti-Semitic threats when evidence is lacking, law enforcement officials and crime experts told TIME last week. The FBI has taken over many of the bomb-threat cases throughout the country, but it’s unclear if the agency has any leads in any of the incidents.

The Philadelphia Police Department on Monday called the cemetery desecration in its city an “abominable crime that appears to target these particular headstones,” but it also urged patience. “We must allow the investigation to take its course before we can determine a specific motive or label as a particular type of crime,” the department said in a statement. “We will continue to work to determine the person(s) responsible and make sure that they are held accountable for this reprehensible act.”


A vandalized tombstone is seen at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 26, 2017 in Philadelphia, PA.
A vandalized tombstone is seen at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 26, 2017 in Philadelphia, PA.Dominick Reuter—AFP/Getty Images

Greenblatt said President Donald Trump’s Administration should step in to find a better way for the vandals to be brought to justice and for the federal government to fight anti-Semitism. Greenblatt’s list of suggestions included for the Justice Department to launch a civil rights investigation into the recent wave of bomb threats and for Trump to tap a new coordinator at the White House focused on “fighting hate.”

Meanwhile, other leaders urged victims of xenophobia to rise up in the face of hatred and said the latest cemetery desecration has strengthened the bond between Jewish and Muslim communities.

“This is meant to make us fearful, and our response will be one of love and compassion and connection. This is part of the Jewish resistance,” Ari Lev Fornari, a rabbi at the Kol Tzedek Synagogue in Philadelphia, said in a video taken at the cemetery and posted on Facebook. “We will not let the hate hurt us. We will not be brought down by this.”

Tarek El-Messidi, one of the Muslim-American organizers behind a successful online fundraiser meant to help the St. Louis cemetery repair its broken gravesites, said an excess of donations the campaign raised will go toward helping the Mount Carmel Cemetery recover.

El-Messidi, who lives in Philadelphia, said it was surreal to walk among the fallen tombstones. He said an on-site volunteer estimated that more than 530 stones were damaged, although police did not confirm that figure. El-Messidi also called for local law-enforcement agencies to closely patrol Jewish cemeteries and centers for the next few weeks until other surveillance systems like video cameras can be installed.

“It was pretty horrific, and it was very sad,” he said. “You can’t really argue that St. Louis was a one-off thing when it happened twice, targeting the same kind of cemetery within the same week.”

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