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Christian and Jewish leaders condemn vandalism

By Marie Sherry

Religious leaders joined political leaders in condemning the desecration of Jewish graves in Wellington in recent months, calling for New Zealanders to take a stand against racism.

The Jewish sections of two cemeteries in the city have been attacked. Sixteen graves in Bolton Street Cemetery were vandalised in July, and in August a prayer centre was set alight and more than 90 headstones pushed over at the Makara Cemetery.

Security has been beefed up at the city’s cemeteries, with static guards and patrols in place.

The attacks follow the suspension of high-level diplomatic ties between New Zealand and Israel after Israel refused to apologise for allegedly sending secret agents here to gather fake passports.

Many New Zealanders have expressed outrage at the cemetery attacks. Parliament passed a motion on August 10 to express its unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism, violence directed against Jews and Jewish religious and cultural institutions, and all forms of racial and ethnic hatred, persecution and discrimination.

Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation president Dave Moskovitz says the attacks had been a surprise and came out of the blue. However, there was a lot of prejudice against Jewish people overseas.

He said the parliamentary motion showed the level of support New Zealand’s Jewish community had at government level.

“The amount of public support that we’ve had from the public in general, but the inter-faith community in particular, has been astounding. It’s all been very genuine and reinforces that 99.99 per cent of New Zealanders are tolerant, sensible people with their heads screwed on,” Dave says.

“I tell them it’s our job to confront racism and bigotry in every form, wherever we see it. that’s the key action that I would like people to think about. I think there is a racism problem in New Zealand that has come to the surface recently. I think it’s always been there.”

Wellington Council of Christians and Jews Christian co-chairman Rev John McCaul said Christian members of the council share with the Jewish community their anger at the anti-Semitic acts.

“Our sympathy goes out to the families of all those whose graves have been disturbed,” he said.

“We assure our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community of our sympathy, and our support, at this difficult time, and our desire to continue to work together.”