Following cemetery vandalism, hundreds rally against hate crimes in Philadelphia


(JTA) — Hundreds of protesters attended a demonstration against hate crimes in Philadelphia following the recent vandalism at a Jewish cemetery and hate crimes across the country.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia organized Thursday’s rally under the banner “Stand Against Hate” following the toppling of over 100 headstones that were discovered at the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 26. It was the second of three such incidents in the United States in less than two weeks.

Separately, last month saw two more strings of bomb threats called into Jewish community centers, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said the cemetery vandalism was “the desecration of the values we all hold dear” and called the bomb scares “threats against each and every one of us and our common humanity,” The Associated Press reported.

Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said she was “incredibly heartened by the outpouring of so many generations of people who are taking their time to come out in the cold to stand against hate.”

No suspects have been arrested for the vandalism or bomb threats.

The suspected hate crime incidents were discovered as police in New York reported that anti-Semitic incidents during the first two months of 2017 were up 94 percent in New York City over the corresponding period last year, part of a 55 percent increase overall in the number of hate crimes.

Some critics of President Donald Trump have blamed his divisive rhetoric during and after the campaign of causing or inspiring the uptick, though others reject the claim.

In an interview published Thursday by the Forward, Abraham Foxman, the former longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, said pressure on Trump to speak out was misguided, even though he himself had joined the calls last month.

“Does anyone think that had he condemned it earlier we wouldn’t have threats to 90 JCCs? I don’t think so,” Foxman said. “It would have made us feel better. But that’s all.”

Foxman also said the situation following the hate crimes is “serious but not critical.”

The ADL on Thursday offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York. Five headstones were found toppled that morning at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery.

“Although it remains unclear if the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism,” the ADL wrote in a statement, “We are deeply disturbed by the vandalism.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday ordered state police to launch a full investigation.

Also last month, more than 100 headstones were damaged in vandalism at a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery.

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