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Antisemitic vandalism rattles Jewish communities amid growing tension in the US

By Chris Boyette, CNN

(CNN) — An antisemitic phrase scrawled on a Holocaust survivor’s home in California. A display supporting Israeli hostages kicked over in Minnesota. Palestinian nationalist messaging spray-painted on a non-profit’s building in Rhode Island.

All, according to local reports, are among the latest acts of vandalism to shake Jewish communities in the US amid increasingly tense rhetoric and protests surrounding the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas and as the head of the FBI warns antisemitism in the country is reaching “historic levels.”

“I was shocked,” Klara Firestone said of the message spray-painted on the back of the home she shares with her mother, an Auschwitz survivor, in Beverly Hills, California.

“It said ‘F**k Jews’ in big green letters spray-painted all over the back of the building,” Firestone said.

It’s one of two incidents reported on the same day last month to the Beverly Hills Police Department, which believes they are related and is investigating them as hate crimes.

“I don’t want to live in fear,” Firestone said. “I don’t really feel afraid in that sense, but I am concerned.”

That concern was reflected in FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony at a Senate hearing Tuesday, when he said antisemitism in the US is “a threat that is reaching, in some way, sort of historic levels.”

“In fact, our statistics would indicate that for a group that represents only about 2.4% of the American public, they account for something like 60% of all religious-based hate crimes,” Wray said of the Jewish population in the US.

“The Jewish community is targeted by terrorists really across the spectrum,” including homegrown violent extremists, foreign terrorist organizations and domestic violent extremists, Wray said, adding joint terrorism task forces have been convened, with hate crime investigations and intelligence-sharing ongoing.

In Minneapolis, a display outside the University of Minnesota’s Jewish student center showing the faces of several Israelis taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 has been damaged twice since it was put up, CNN affiliate KARE11 reported. The most recent incident was Saturday, when the display was kicked over and damaged, the report said.

“It creates an unsafe environment for Jewish students who are just trying to show support for their friends, family and people on the other side of the world,” Minnesota Hillel Executive Director Benjie Kaplan told KARE11.

CNN has reached out to the University of Minnesota for comment and more information.

In Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where 11 people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue while worshiping in October 2018, graffiti that said “Death 2 America,” “Free Palestine” and “I Stand With Gaza” was seen scrawled at a condo complex Tuesday, according to CNN affiliate WTAE.

“We’re really horrified when this is happening in our own backyard,” said Laura Cherner, director of the Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “This community has experienced the worst antisemitic attack in US history, and to see antisemitic incidents continue to happen is horrifying.”

“We don’t want this in our city,” Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said, according to WTAE.

CNN has reached out to Pittsburgh police for more information.

In Rhode Island, a nonprofit farmer’s market organization in Providence was the site of vandalism on October 20, according to CNN affiliate WJAR. The phrase “Free Palestine” was spray-painted on a wall and posters with a phrase seen in Palestinian nationalist artwork were put on the windows, WJAR reported.

Police are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime, according to the affiliate. CNN has reached out to the Providence Police for information.

“We are not experts on the conflict in the Middle East and because of that, Farm Fresh does not have an official statement to share, beyond our sincere hope that the violence and the loss of human lives comes to an end,” Jesse Rye, a spokesperson for the nonprofit told WJAR.

And in Virginia, a high school football field was vandalized with a spray-painted swastika over the weekend, which school officials called a “disgraceful and unthinkable act.”

“This obscene symbol of pure hate and intolerance has no place in our society and stands in direct opposition to the principles of unity, respect, and inclusion that we hold dear at our school and across our school division,” Mechanicsville High School Principal Charles E. Stevens and Hanover County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Gill said in a joint statement.

The Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, the statement said.

As local authorities investigate acts of vandalism across the country, the Biden administration is taking steps to address rising antisemitism on the national level, Wray said.

“This is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance,” the FBI chief said, addressing public fear over the rise in hate crimes. “We shouldn’t stop conducting our daily lives – going to schools, houses of worship, and so forth – but we should be vigilant.”

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz, Cheri Mossburg, Nicki Brown and Kelly McCleary contributed to this report.

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