Cemetery Vandalism Shocks Wellington Jews

The small Jewish community in Wellington, New Zealand has expressed its shock at the second desecration of a Jewish cemetery in three weeks.

Amiram Barkat
Amiram Barkat

The small Jewish community in Wellington, New Zealand has expressed its shock at the second desecration of a Jewish cemetery in three weeks. Vandals overturned 29 gravestones at Makara cemetery outside Wellington on Friday, setting fire to the small funeral home on the premises and spray-painting swastikas on its walls.

Three weeks before, 16 graves were desecrated in the old Jewish cemetery in central Wellington, and anti-Jewish graffiti sprayed. "I never thought such a thing could happen in New Zealand," said Unger Woolk, a Vienna-born Holocaust survivor who emigrated to New Zealand in 1957, after seeing the desecrated grave of her husband, Ron.

All of New Zealand's political parties publicly condemned the incidents. Minister of Minority Affairs Chris Carter, who called them "racist" said he would be asking parliament to issue a declaration condemning anti-Semitism in New Zealand. President of the New Zealand Jewish Council, David Zwartz, told Haaretz the 1,500-member Jewish community is upset by the incidents but not afraid.

The media in New Zealand yesterday reported the desecration of the Makara cemetery came just before two Israelis convicted of passport fraud began to serve a six-month prison sentence. After the first case of vandalism three weeks ago, the Jewish community was reportedly furious with outgoing Prime Minister Helen Clark who said the two events were unconnected and Jewish community sources said the second incident proved the first was not random vandalism.

Stephen Goodman, head of the Jewish community in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, said he believed the anti-Israeli statements made by politicians are encouraging marginal elements to act against Jews.

On the other hand, Jeremy Rose, a Wellington-based Jewish journalist who deals with Jewish-Arab relations in New Zealand, said there was no connection between the anti-Semitic incidents and Clark's "entirely reasonable and considered stand" on the convicted Israelis.

Wellington police spokesman Tim Leitch yesterday said the police have no leads in their investigation, mainly because heavy rain wiped out evidence.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast called Friday's attack an "act of cowardice" and pledged to increase security around Jewish cemeteries. Holocaust-denier David Irving said he will visit New Zealand in September to speak to the National Press Club.

David Zwartz said, "Irving's presence here will doubtless contribute to an increased level of anti- Jewish feeling."

After an appeal to the government by the Jewish community, immigration officials announced this week that Irving would not be allowed into the country.



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