BDS activist raises $56,000 for vandalized Jewish cemetery
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BDS activist raises $56,000 for vandalized Jewish cemetery

Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour says she hopes crowdfunding effort will help bring 'a sense of security' to US Jews

In this Dec. 29, 2011 file photo, Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, poses for photos in front of a canvas painted by the association's youth group at its headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)
In this Dec. 29, 2011 file photo, Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, poses for photos in front of a canvas painted by the association's youth group at its headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)

A Palestinian-American activist who has voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to help repair a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery where at least 170 gravestones were toppled over the weekend.

Linda Sarsour, who played a prominent role in organizing the Women’s March on Washington following US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January and was a leading surrogate for US Senator Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, started the fundraising campaign with activist Tarek El-Messidi to raise $20,000 for repairs.

As of Wednesday morning, the crowdfunding effort had brought in more than $56,000, close to three times Sarsour and El-Massidi’s intended target.

They said any remaining funds after the cemetery is restored would go toward repairs to other vandalized Jewish centers.

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” the activists wrote. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”

Sarsour, who has said the labeling of her as a Hamas supporter by conservative groups in the US is an attempt to tarnish her work, told the Haaretz daily that she is “a critic of the State of Israel. I always will be. I have come out in full support of BDS.”

She also told the paper that she supported Sanders because he was “a candidate who sees the humanity of the Palestinian people, because I am Palestinian,” while also saying she favored a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Other Muslim Americans have offered support to American Jews amid a rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents in the US, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. On Tuesday, CAIR offered “a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who threatened to bomb at least 10 Jewish community centers around the nation on the President’s Day holiday.”

Nihad Awad, Executive Director and Founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2010. (Public domain, Wikimedia commons)
Nihad Awad, Executive Director and Founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2010. (Public domain, Wikimedia commons)

In a statement, CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said Muslims must stand with Jews and other minority groups against hate crimes.

“It is the duty of American Muslims to offer support to the Jewish community and any minority group targeted in the recent spike in hate crimes nationwide.” he said. “We hope this reward will aid in the swift apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators.”

At least 10 Jewish community centers nationwide were reported to have received bomb threats on Monday in the fourth wave of such incidents in a month.

On Tuesday, Missouri’s Jewish governor, Eric Greitens, announced he would volunteer to help repair the damaged gravestones and cited the Jewish concept of “tikkun olam,” or repair of the world, as part of the need to do so.

Eric Greitens speaking at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, May 7, 2012. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images via JTA)
Eric Greitens speaking at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, May 7, 2012. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images via JTA)

“My team and I will be there tomorrow, and I’d invite you to join us,” he said, calling on helpers to bring rakes, garbage bags, wash rags and more cleaning supplies.

The governor had previously condemned the vandalism on the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City and called on people to “fight acts of intolerance and hate.”

Video still of vandalized headstones in Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, February 20, 2017. (Screen capture: FOX2NEWS via JTA)
Video still of vandalized headstones in Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, February 20, 2017. (Screen capture: FOX2NEWS via JTA)

The attack on the cemetery took place sometime between Friday night and Monday morning, when the damage was discovered.

Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery Executive Director Anita Feigenbaum told The New York Times that between 170 and 200 headstones were toppled, with some being broken and damaged.

JTA contributed to this report.

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