Five Jews gathered for a religious holiday were injured Saturday evening in a stabbing attack on a rabbi’s residence near New York, an assault on Sunday described as a “terrorist act” by the governor of the State.
Saturday night, “A call arrived reporting a mass stabbing attack” against “The residence of a Hasidic rabbi”, tweeted the Orthodox Jewish Association OJPAC (Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council) reporting five injuries, two of them in critical condition. “Five people with stab wounds, all Hasidic Jews, transported to local hospitals”, according to the OPJAC.
Local police say a suspect was arrested and a vehicle seized. The suspect, Grafton Thomas, 37, appeared in court during a preliminary hearing late in the morning.
Five counts for «tentative d’homicide» and one for “burglary” have been held against him, local police said in a statement, adding that his bail had been set at five million dollars. He has pleaded not guilty and will appear again on January 3.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo reacted Sunday morning by calling the attack “a terrorist act.”
“We have some dangerous hate-motivated crimes that we’re fighting, but I think we’re beyond that now. I think it is a terrorist act. I think it’s internal terrorism ”, he declared on his arrival on the spot.
According to CBS television, a man armed with a machete broke into the house of this rabbi, in Monsey (50 km north of New York), where people had gathered for the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The assailant reportedly injured at least three people present before fleeing.
This attack comes against a backdrop of escalating anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Rockland County, where Monsey is located, has the highest proportion of Jewish population in the United States, with 90,000 people or 31.4%.
“I prayed for my life”said Aron Kohn, who attended the scene. The stabbing weapon used by the assailant, he told the New York Times daily, “Was the size of a broomstick”.
According to Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of OJPAC for the Hudson Valley region, interviewed by the New York Times, one of the victims is the son of this rabbi. “There were several dozen people in the house. It was a celebration of Hanukkah ”, an important Jewish holiday, Gestetner added.
“New York State has zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and the attacker will have to face the law in all its rigor”Governor Cuomo said on Twitter.
In Israel, President Reuven Rivlin said to himself “In shock and indignant” after this attack.
“The rise of anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem and certainly not just the problem of the State of Israel”, he said in a statement. “We must work together to combat this evil which is raising its head again and posing a real threat across the world.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his part “Strongly condemned the recent manifestations of anti-Semitism”.
America’s Jewish community, some estimated at more than 5 million people, is increasingly the target of attacks.
In a report published in April, the Anti-Defamation League, an organization fighting against racism and anti-Semitism, counted 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, approaching the record of 1,986 in 2017, and including 39 physical attacks , double the previous year.
On December 10, a shooting at a Jersey City kosher grocery store on the outskirts of New York City left four people dead. The police had described this attack as“Act of domestic terrorism fueled by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement views”. The two attackers had been shot.
The bloodiest attack on Jews in the United States was in October 2018, when a 46-year-old truck driver shot dead 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
After Saturday’s attack, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that he recently spoke to several Jewish friends who are afraid to assert their faith in public.
“We will not tolerate this becoming a new normal”, he added. “We will use all the means we have to put an end to these attacks once and for all.”