FBI Investigates Anti-Israel Vandalism at Seattle Temple

(The Seattle Times/TNS) — A Conservative Jewish temple in Mercer Island, Wash., was vandalized overnight with anti-Israel graffiti, marking the latest affront to Jewish institutions in the Seattle area, officials said Wednesday.

Herzl-Ner Tamid was defaced with a number of spray-painted phrases related to Israel, which has been at war with Hamas since Oct. 7. The FBI, which initially responded Wednesday morning, is leading the investigation, according to Mercer Island police.

The temple said leaders are taking the incident very seriously and there are no credible threats of violence.

“Despite this adversity, our commitment to leading fulfilled, connected Jewish lives remains steadfast,” the congregation posted on social media. “Thank you for standing strong with us. We would like to take a moment to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.”

The vandalism occurred as the federal agency also investigates suspicious packages sent to Seattle-area Jewish organizations, including two reports on Mercer Island within the last week. The Mercer Island City Council issued a proclamation last month condemning all acts of violence, terrorism and other activities deliberately targeting innocent civilians.

Herzl-Ner Tamid, the area’s oldest Conservative congregation, was founded in Seattle in 1906 and moved in the 1970s to Mercer Island, where it’s part of a strong concentration of Jewish institutions.

An estimated 20% of the households on the island, which has about 25,000 residents, are Jewish.

Deputy Mayor David Rosenbaum, whose father Jay is former leader of the congregation, said the vandalism hit very close to home.

“There shouldn’t be a place for this in our society,” he said. “To attack a place of worship, calling for peace, I really can’t square that circle.”

Will Berkovitz, CEO of the Jewish Family Service of Seattle, described the vandalism as a “full-on assault” of a place of worship. He said he’s been in touch with Herzl-Ner Tamid leaders and members, receiving several videos and photos of the vandalism.

“This is not legitimate criticism of Israeli government,” he said. “This is about hatred of Jews. You wouldn’t attack a Jewish place of worship if you were trying to critique Israeli policy.”

Elected officials on Wednesday condemned the incident.

“Hate crimes are wrong and attacks on houses of worship in our own backyard, like the desecration of Herzl-Ner Tamid, are particularly craven and alarming,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement. “We must reject these vandals that seek to exacerbate hostilities.”

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal said she’s horrified by the vandalism.

“This synagogue and its congregation are so important to our community and my heart is with them,” she posted on the social media platform X. “We must continue to condemn rising hatred wherever we see it.”

Jayapal came under fire last July for calling Israel a “racist state.” She subsequently apologized but said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies.”

The Consulate General of Israel in San Francisco, which represents the Pacific Northwest region, said the vandalism is part of a disturbing trend of antisemitic incidents.

“The heinous act of hate against our place of worship is a direct consequence of the alarming surge in physical and online hate speech being spread in our communities,” the Consulate said in a statement. “Silence is not an option. Silence is complicity. Unequivocal condemnation is the only moral imperative when faced with these hate crimes. We must all do our part in ensuring that this never happens again.”

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