Suspect arrested in Ra’anana Reform synagogue vandalism
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Suspect arrested in Ra’anana Reform synagogue vandalism

39-year-old Israeli man also said behind threatening letters left at home of atheistic ethicist

Hateful graffiti sprayed on the Kehilat Ra'anan Reform synagogue in Ra'anana, November 24, 2016. (Yossi Cohen)
Hateful graffiti sprayed on the Kehilat Ra'anan Reform synagogue in Ra'anana, November 24, 2016. (Yossi Cohen)

A 39-year-old Israeli man from the center of the country was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of vandalizing a Reform synagogue in Ra’anana and leaving threatening notes outside the Jerusalem home of a prominent Israeli ethicist and atheist.

The Israeli man, who was not identified, carried out the hate crimes in 2014-2016 out of a religious motive, police said. The police statement about the suspect’s arrest did not detail his religious leanings.

According to police, the suspect was linked to the defacing of the Kehilat Ra’anan synagogue in 2014 and 2016. In the latter instance, graffiti with biblical references was sprayed on the building, and envelopes containing death threats against senior leaders in the Reform movement were left outside of the building along with a knife branded with scriptural references. The vandalism seemed to have been tied to a push by the Reform Movement and others to open the Western Wall to non-Orthodox prayer services.

In January 2014, the Kehilat Ra’anan synagogue suffered a similar attack with biblical passages of the same nature sprayed in the same spot on the front of the building.

Police also said the suspect was behind threatening notes left outside the home of Prof. Yaakov Malkin, director of Tmura, the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism, in January 2016. Graffiti depicting a Star of David and references to biblical passages were sprayed on the fence around the Malkin’s house, and an envelope containing a threatening letter and a knife branded with a further biblical reference were also found at the scene, according to police.

Death threats and a knife left outside of the Kehilat Ra'anan Reform synagogue in Ra'anana, November 24, 2016. (Yossi Cohen)
Death threats and a knife left outside of the Kehilat Ra’anan Reform synagogue in Ra’anana, November 24, 2016. (Yossi Cohen)

Malkin, 89, is a well-known writer and educator, espousing an ethical and humanist approach to Judaism and religion. As well as serving as the academic director for Tmura, Malkin is the chief editor of Free Judaism, a journal for cultural Judaism, which he founded in 1995. He is the author of a number of influential atheist works including “Judaism Without God? Judaism as Culture and the Bible as Literature.”

The suspect was arrested outside his home in central Israel on Tuesday morning. His residence, along with his mother’s home, were subject to a police search.

Police said he would be brought to a court later on Tuesday to extend his remand.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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