Jewish graves desecrated in Strand but anti-Semitism not suspected

Third incident in a week as vagrants blamed for vandalism

24 June 2019 - 11:33 By Dan Meyer
Tombstones were smashed at Strand's Jewish cemetery.
Tombstones were smashed at Strand's Jewish cemetery.
Image: Supplied

Headstones were found pushed over and graves damaged at the Jewish cemetery in Strand, in the Western Cape, at the weekend.

The incident has prompted the local Jewish community to file a complaint with the police to ensure that burial grounds are secured from vandals. 

Four headstones were knocked over and smashed.

This is the third incident in a week in which Jewish graves have been vandalised in the Western Cape.

Stuart Diamond, head of the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies, said the vandalism is not believed to have been an anti-Semitic act - unlike an incident in Wellington last year, when 39 Jewish graves were specifically targeted.

"We don't believe that this is an anti-Semitic act at this point. Unlike incidents in Wellington last year, we can't say that this is directly aimed at Jewish gravesites," he said. 

"I am concerned about antisocial behaviour becoming pervasive in our cemeteries, which we want to keep sacred. But I do not believe that this was a deliberately anti-Semitic act." 

Diamond admitted that these incidents seem to be on the rise. "We are seeing a worrying number of vandalism incidents in cemeteries," he said. "We shouldn't let this get out of control. We are looking to work closely with provincial government and community forums to make sure we can tackle this issue head on.

"There is dignity for the dead to consider. We put a lot of effort into the maintenance and upkeep of Jewish cemeteries around the province," he said.

Four graves were vandalised at Strand's Jewish cemetery.
Four graves were vandalised at Strand's Jewish cemetery.
Image: Supplied

Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom reported that the police feared that the spate of recent incidents in the province are connected to an "active neo-Nazi cell" - although both Diamond and Hertzel Brodovsky, chairman of the Strand Jewish community, distanced themselves from these claims. 

The SAPS said they could not confirm whether there was any such neo-Nazi organisation in operation. 

Speaking to Israel Hayom, World Zionist Organisation deputy chairman Yaakov Hagoel  said the incident was concerning. "These incidents unfortunately spread like wildfire and have become a global trend. These are very serious incidents that must be stopped immediately before they kill Jews," he said. 

Brodovsky agreed with Diamond, saying that the incident should not spark an anti-Semitism row.

"It's more a case of being a social problem. I don't think it's anti-Semitism. Vagrants can get in there discreetly and spend the whole night there, so we've got a security guard now who can provide a presence in the facility," he said.