Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday visited a mosque in northern Israel that had been desecrated the previous day in an attack blamed on Jewish extremists, and said the government was treating the attack as terrorism.
“Whoever defiles another person’s place of worship has no respect for his own God,” Lapid said while touring the mosque in the Arab town of Fureidis. He called the vandals “a group of cowardly criminals.”
“We are treating this group the same [way we treat] terrorism,” Lapid said. “We will deal with this. I have come here to embrace the mayor and tell him that the State of Israel categorically condemns the ugly thing these criminals did.”
Lapid was echoing sentiments made earlier Wednesday by Knesset opposition head Isaac Herzog, who said during a visit to the town that the so-called “price tag” attacks by Jewish extremists against Arabs were a form of terrorism.
A Star of David was found spray-painted on the walls of the mosque in the Arab town Tuesday, along with a slogan reading “close mosques and not yeshivas,” likely a reference to the recent seizure by the Border Police of a yeshiva — a center of Jewish learning — in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.
The tires of at least 20 vehicles were also found to have been slashed, and a security camera at the mosque recorded three men in hoodies walking around the mosque the previous evening.
President Shimon Peres personally apologized on Tuesday on behalf of the nation to the Fureidis local council head.
“As the president of the country I apologize in the name of the citizens of the country to all the residents who were affected,” Peres told Yonis Meree. “These vile acts are contrary to the Jewish faith and morals… and are contrary to the interests of all citizens of Israel.”
Some 2,500 residents of the town held a demonstration on Tuesday night against the vandalism.
The violence continued Wednesday, with vandals slashing the tires of a vehicle belonging to an Arab contractor parked in the northern city of Yokne’am and daubing it with the “price tag” slogan and a Star of David.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) said Wednesday he intends to introduce new legislation that will allow price tag victims to be compensated by the state as terror victims, Israel Radio reported.
The phrase “price tag” is used by a small group of Jewish extremists to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been targeted by vandals in recent years. The acts have been condemned by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.
Yokneam has seen a spate of the attacks in recent days.
On Sunday a vehicle belonging to an Arab contractor was defaced in the Lower Galilee city and the words “price tag” accompanied by a picture of a Star of David were etched on its exterior. Two of the vehicle’s tires were slashed as well. On the same day an Acre school was vandalized, with the words “death to Arabs” and graffiti against the school’s administration spray-painted across a wall in the building.
Stuart Winer and AP contributed to this report.