Police in Newton, Massachusetts, investigating string of vandalism targeting pro-Israel homes as hate crimes
Theodore D. Mann Building, Public Library, on Homer Street in Newton, Mass. (Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel via Wikimedia Commons)

By Andrew Lapin
March 21, 2024

(JTA) – Authorities in Newton, Massachusetts, said they are investigating a string of seven recent instances of vandalism targeting homes with pro-Israel signs as individual hate crimes.

In one incident this week, more than 100 posters displaying Israeli hostages who are being held in Gaza were destroyed, in what the Jewish homeowners said had been a site of communal memory since shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Most of the reported incidents in the heavily Jewish Boston suburb over the past month involve the defacement or removal of pro-Israel signs from lawns or fences. Police also noted two additional recent incidents, the hostage poster destruction and another in which a rock was thrown through the window of a house with a pro-Israel sign.

“Bias, hatred and targeting those for their personal beliefs can not and will not be tolerated by the Newton Police Department,” Police Chief John Carmichael told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement. “Now is a time for solidarity to prevail in our community, not divisiveness. We ask the community to partner with us to identify the individual(s) responsible for these acts and help send the message that such hate has no place in Newton.”

A department spokesperson told JTA that each case is being investigated as a hate crime. They are all being investigated separately with the exception of two incidents targeting the same home. The police have not identified any suspects and have also been in contact with the FBI and with a recently formed unit of the Massachusetts State Police charged with investigating hate crimes.

The events in Newton are not isolated. Similar pro-Israel signs and hostage posters, including on private property, have been targeted with removal or vandalism by pro-Palestinian activists across the country since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war nearly six months ago.

But the Newton situation is unusual for its apparent pattern over a short period, involving graffiti with near-identical wording and the same house being targeted twice. It is also unusual for attracting concerted attention from local authorities, and for the hate crime designation being applied to defacement of pro-Israel material without reports of accompanying violence. 

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller denounced the incidents, saying, “In recent days we have seen two disturbing acts of vandalism in Newton targeting homes displaying support for hostages and Israel which has led Jewish neighbors to feel both upset and afraid.”

Jeff and Miriam Kosowsky, a Jewish couple, had put up a 110-foot-long string of hostage posters along a fence on their property shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which launched the war. Over the past weekend, they said, every individual poster was either defaced or torn down. Their home address sign was also painted in black, they said.

“THIS IS DESECRATION OF A ‘MEMORIAL’ THAT HAS BECOME SACRED IN OUR COMMUNITY,” the couple wrote to JTA in all-caps, calling the vandalism a “major antisemitic hate crime.”

The Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the region’s Jewish federation, addressed the hostage poster teardown, saying in a social media statement this week that it was “outraged by this incident of hate on display in our community.” It added, “There can be no room for this vile behavior in Boston.”

The incidents date back to late February. Five of them involve signs reading “We Stand With Israel.” In three of those instances, the signs were defaced with stickers reading “Bombing kids is not self defense”; a sign was also stolen in one instance, and covered with red paint in another. 

The incidents represent only some of the recent pro-Palestinian activism that has alarmed Jewish leaders in Massachusetts.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston said on Wednesday that it was “immensely disappointed” with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, because of its past and planned activities. 

In December, the union passed a resolution calling for the United States to “stop funding and sending weapons in support of the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza.” And on Thursday the union is hosting a virtual webinar with Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group, in which it promises to address multiple questions: “What is anti-Palestinian discrimination? How does Palestine fit into the larger framework of colonialism and imperialism? What are Zionism and anti-Zionism, and what are their histories? Why is anti-Zionism not antisemitism?”

Jeremy Burton, the JCRC’s CEO, lamented the consequences of the union’s activism in a statement.

“Since October 7th, some leaders and members of the MTA have contributed to an erosion of trust which is not only harmful to Jewish teachers and students but, also, to the long-term educational objectives of fostering a culture of exchange, meaningful dialogue, and an embrace of different perspectives and worldviews,” Burton wrote.

The statement specifically criticized the union’s December vote and its upcoming webinar. Without naming Jewish Voice for Peace directly, Burton said the union was “centering” a group with “an explicit track-record of promoting and amplifying antisemitism.”

The student government of Tufts University, in nearby Medford, also recently voted to pass a resolution endorsing the tenets of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, in a meeting that Jewish observers said was rife with antisemitism, including spitting on Jewish students and yelling at them to “go back to Israel.”

Both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, located in nearby Cambridge, have drawn criticism for their handling of anti-Israel protests on their campuses, starting shortly after Oct. 7.

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