New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force on Thursday to investigate vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, the third known case of a Jewish cemetery desecration in the country in the last two weeks.
At least five headstones were found pushed over at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery this week in Rochester, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
The newspaper reported that Michael Phillips, president of the non-profit organization that oversees the cemetery, said there was no proof the vandalization was a case of anti-Semitism, citing the smaller scale of the damage in Rochester.
About 100 headstones were knocked over at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia last weekend, and about 170 headstones were knocked over in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.
Cuomo said the vandalism in Rochester appeared to be part of a surge in threats and vandalism targeting Jewish organizations this year. Scores of Jewish community centers around the country have fielded bomb threats that later proved hoaxes.
“Given the wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and disturbing vandalism at Jewish cemeteries nationwide, I am directing the State Police to immediately launch a full investigation into this matter,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement.
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has condemned the threats and attacks, although he has at times also questioned whether some perpetrators might be opponents of his seeking to link his new presidency with a rise in anti-Semitism.
Trump’s election campaign last year drew support from some white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.
Officials at the cemetery in Rochester did not return calls seeking comment. In 2014, vandals toppled more than 40 headstones at another Jewish cemetery near Rochester, but local police concluded the vandalism was not motivated by anti-Semitism, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio)