IN what may be one of the ugliest expressions of Israel’s secular-religious tensions, a synagogue has been found desecrated, with the prayer hall trashed and Torah scrolls thrown on the floor.
“We saw such cases only at the hands of the Nazis during the cursed Holocaust,” declared Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Arye Stern.
Police say they have several lines of inquiry, but many Israelis say they are already sure of the motivation: anger from secular Jews towards religious Jews.
The incident took place in the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood of Jerusalem, where secular-religious tensions are sky-high, and where there was already a case of eruv wires being cut.
While officers are weighing different motivations, including a nationally motivated Palestinian attack, prominent politicians like Yaakov Asher have reached their conclusion.
The United Torah Judaism MP said: “This is a terrible hate crime, the result of the debauchery of media and politicians who seek democracy and pluralism that incite the public with empty yelling against the religious.”
Moshe Gafni, another UTJ politician, spoke about a campaign by secular activists to stop ultra-Orthodox residents from moving to Kiryat Yovel, and said that it “has eventually led to a few ruthless people, corrupt people, perpetrating this miserable act of harming a place of prayer”.
There was a bitter irony to the attack felt by congregants at the heavily-French Siach Israel synagogue.
Interior Minister Arye Deri noted, “It is even more painful that it’s a community of new immigrants from France, who fled mainly from antisemitism and came to Israel.”
There is a hall at the synagogue named after Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who was killed with his children in the 2012 Toulouse attack.
The attack came three days after vandals targeted a Netanya synagogue and daubed the phrase “Hail Satan.”
They also burned siddurim, at the New Synagogue, which is widely known by the heavily English-speaking community as McDonald – the street where it is located.
As with the Jerusalem attack, police are exploring different lines of inquiry.
While it is suspected that the vandals in both cases were Jewish, politicians have widely used the term “antisemitic”, and Deri even said that the Jerusalem attack was an “antisemitic pogrom”.
The Jerusalem incident was more high-profile than the Netanya vandalism and many public figures rushed to condemn it, though most avoided saying what they think motivated it.
President Reuven Rivlin said that pictures from the scene were “shocking”.
Jerusalem’s mayor Moshe Leon visited the synagogue and said he had never seen such a crime scene.
He remarked: “Such a thing can’t be happening in Jerusalem, in the Land of Israel. We know these things only from dark periods in the Diaspora.”