(JTA) – A Syrian man was arrested Monday for attacking the president of the Jewish Community organization in Graz, Austria with a wooden bat on Saturday evening.
A spokesperson for the Jewish Community said Elie Rosen, 49, had been driving onto the grounds of the community’s synagogue when he passed a man on a bicycle who had a stone in his hand. Rosen got out of his car to ask the man what he was doing there.
Instead of answering, the man “came at me” with what appeared to be a baseball bat, Rosen reported. He managed to jump back into his car and lock the doors. The man “hit the car several times” with the bat then rode off on his bike.
According to the Austrian Press Agency, Rosen said the perpetrator resembled a man seen on surveillance videos vandalizing the synagogue twice last week. On Wednesday, someone wrote pro-Palestinian slogans on the synagogue exterior, and on Friday night, someone threw pieces of concrete against the building’s north side, breaking one window and damaging others.
Police have increased security for the site and for Rosen. Meanwhile, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer announced increased surveillance of all Jewish institutions in the country and has invited Jewish leaders in Austria to a meeting this coming week.
“An attack on one member is an attack against Austria,” Oskar Deutsch, president of Austria’s Jewish Religious Community, told Austrian media, adding that “the best response to anti-Semitism is to celebrate Jewish life and culture. We will not be intimidated.”
Austria’s Jewish community has approximately 7,000 members, most of whom live in Vienna. The Graz community has about 70 members today, as compared to about 2,000 in 1910, according to Israel’s Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
Rosen, an attorney and economist who has headed the Graz community since 2016, said he would not let the attacks intimidate him.
Following news of the attack, citizens – including local politicians and representatives of the Islamic cultural center – reportedly gathered in front of the synagogue Saturday night for a vigil.