SYDNEY (JTA) — Three men were charged in a New Zealand court with damaging more than 20 Jewish gravestones at a historic cemetery in Auckland.
The suspects, aged 19 to 23, were charged Tuesday in Auckland District Court with willful damage of the graves, some of which date back to the 1880s. Their bail was conditioned on not associating with each other or visiting a Jewish cemetery, synagogue or school. They were ordered to reappear in court next month.
One of the suspects, Nathan Symington, accused police of a "witch hunt" and said that although he was a "small-time criminal," he was no racist and he’d fight the charge "to the bitter end." The names of the other two were suppressed by the court.
The vandalism last week included spray-painting swastikas and the number 88, code for “Heil Hitler,” as well as graffiti including "F*** Israel." The charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
The attack drew a chorus of condemnation from Jewish officials, Israel’s ambassador, interfaith leaders and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, whose mother escaped Nazism by fleeing Austria on the eve of the Holocaust.