SYDNEY (JTA) — Two men were arrested for an anti-Semitic attack on a historic Jewish cemetery in New Zealand.
The men, 19 and 23, were arrested Sunday in Auckland and charged with willful damage three days after the discovery of about 20 desecrated gravestones at the cemetery.
One will appear in Auckland District Court on Monday; the other will appear the next day. The maximum penalty on the charge is seven years in prison.
New Zealand Jewish Council President Stephen Goodman said police called him Sunday with 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 desecration included many gravestones spray-painted with swastikas and the number "88" — code for "Heil Hitler." One gravestone was emblazoned with "F*** Israel"; 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 that 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 in a statement condemned the desecration as a "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, called the vandalism "appalling."
Approximately 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand, with the majority of them in Auckland.