May 15, 2024
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Incidents of antisemitic graffiti in the town are being investigated by local police and county prosecutor.

Antisemitic graffiti on a retaining wall at the Allwood Road Park & Ride that has since been washed away by the city.

The Clifton City Council may consider adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism following a series of antisemitic graffiti left in parks and on an overpass over the past several weeks.

The swastikas and anti-Israel messages have outraged city leaders and the community. The incidents are being investigated by local police and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Seven swastikas were found painted on park benches, trees, a portable toilet and the blacktop at Dunney Park on Cherry Street, which is bordered by Mesivta Zichron Boruch and Yeshiva Gedola of Clifton, whose students often use the park to play ball.

There have also been conspiracy theories regarding Israel and Jews and a link to an antisemitic website written on a retaining wall owned by NJ Transit at the Allwood Road Park & Ride. After cameras were installed there by the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, the graffiti appeared down the street at Jubilee Park. All graffiti has been removed by the city.

Lt. Robert Bracken of the Clifton Police said the latest incident occurred over last weekend in the same area. He described it as a “copycat” of previous graffiti issues and said the investigation is ongoing.

“Basically, we’ve got to figure out the timeframe,” he said. “That is the hardest part.”

The spate of antisemitic incidents prompted City Manager Nick Villano to issue a statement on behalf of Mayor Ray Grabowski and the council.

“We are outraged by these cowardly acts, and we apologize to our Jewish community for having to endure,” it stated. “Clifton is one of the most diversified communities in the State of New Jersey, we embrace all people, and we respect the individual’s right to be free from discrimination.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 9) also released a statement condemning the hatred directed at the Jewish community.

“This despicable antisemitic vandalism is a stain on our entire community,” he wrote. “Anti-Jewish hate is rising across America and every single one of us must unite in condemnation. Only together can we crush this scourge. I am sick about this.”

Swastikas on tables at Dunney Park.

Community activist Steve Goldberg said he spoke at the most recent council meeting on June 20 about the need to adopt the IHRA to help define and prosecute acts of antisemitism. He said the council seemed interested and members said they would look into it. A number of municipalities in New Jersey have already adopted the IHRA definition.

“I think it’s important for Clifton as well as for other communities to adopt the IHRA to make people understand what antisemitism is,” he told The Jewish Link. “If you denounce Israel repeatedly, you are antisemitic.”

IHRA is a non-legally binding resolution adopted by 31 member countries, including the U.S., stating that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and cites several examples, including the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Goldberg said in the past there have been local antisemitic incidents “off and on but there’s never been this consistency.”

“People need to understand this is a big problem and it’s time for the people in the city to understand this is a big problem,” he added.

Ben Schwartz, another community activist, said the messages on the wall, which had been written in chalk, referenced a website containing 19th century Russian propaganda about the secrets of the Talmud as well as some conspiracy theory about Israel. After it was washed away twice, the perpetrators went down the road to Jubilee Park and again scrawled their hatred in chalk.

The two swastikas he saw on tables in Dunney Park were spray-painted; the city tried to power wash them off, which unfortunately damaged the tables.

“The swastikas seemed very different from the first four,” said Schwartz, noting the wall graffiti has “weird conspiracy theories,” and the fourth scrawl in Jubilee Park was written with chalk while the Dunney Park swastikas were painted.

“The community is concerned because it seems like two different people,” said Schwartz. “Something tells me this is not over. I just hope this doesn’t turn into something like Molotov cocktails.”

The Clifton Jewish Community Council (CJCC) in a statement said that it had been in touch with government authorities “and continues to engage in productive dialogue.”

However, it also expressed concern about a private Clifton Facebook group, which it said is “a hotbed of antisemitic rhetoric.”

“Members of this group aim to prevent members of our community from obtaining zoning approval and accuse us of illegal and uncivilized acts,” it read. “These kinds of evil, discriminatory jabs have created an environment in Clifton where antisemitism is unfortunately growing.”

The CJCC urged concerned residents to attend council meetings—the next one is on July 5—or to call or write the mayor, police chief and city manager and ask for more cameras in public places and increased patrols, and to ask that sufficient resources be appropriated to catch perpetrators (https://www.cliftonnj.org/101/Council). It is also looking to set up a neighborhood watch organization—if interested contact Schwartz, [email protected].

It also encouraged the Jewish community to take positive steps to engage with neighbors, adding, “Ensure that you make a Kiddush HaShem! Go out of your way to be polite and to engage with others. Often a simple smile or a warm greeting can change someone’s perspective.”

Those with any information should contact the Clifton Police Department, (973) 470-5911, or the Prosecutor’s Office tip line at 1-877-370-PCPO or [email protected].


Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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