Before last week I had never heard of Omri Casspi — an Israeli-born basketball player for the Sacramento Kings. [Before last week I also don’t think I had ever heard of the Sacramento Kings — which is less a statement about the merits of the Kings and much more a statement about my knowledge of pro basketball.] There is a mural devoted to the Kings on a Sacramento street, and last week (apparently on Rosh HaShanah eve) someone drew a swastika on the forehead of Casspi’s image on the mural. (Here’s the report from the Sacramento Bee, and here’s a slideshow of the defaced mural.) The police investigated the vandalism as a possible hate crime, but as of this writing have not yet caught anyone. The ADL came up with a $1,000 reward for information about the perpetrator. The swastika was scraped off the mural. I thought I’d never hear about Casspi again.
Except that this morning (Thursday), the same swastika vandalism happened again. Same mural, same image of Casspi. The owner of the Kings, Joe Maloof, kicked in another $1,000 on top of ADL’s as a reward for information.
This is not the first time Sacramento has been hit by anti-Jewish vandalism in the recent past. On January 1, 2010, the Knesset Israel Torah Center was vandalized with “swastikas, demonic symbols and racist messages,” according to the Sacramento Bee. Parked cars about a mile away from the synagogue were also vandalized with Stars of David enclosing the number 666. Two months earlier, in November 2009, Congregation Beth Shalom in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael was also vandalized; that case, which occurred on the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, included graffiti that read, “Kristallnacht Lives,” together with SS lightning bolts and a swastika. No word on whether any suspects were apprehended in either case.
There are two difference between the attacks on the synagogues and the vandalism of Omri Casspi’s image. The synagogue vandalism was accompanied by racist symbols and messages, and were targeted at Jewish religious institutions with no obvious connection to the State of Israel. The vandalism of the Casspi mural, however, was a simple swastika which targeted a man who is known to Kings fans as the only Israeli player ever chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft. Can it be that in the mind of the perpetrator, the vandalism of the Casspi mural was an act of anti-Zionism rather than anti-Semitism? Let’s not forget that swastikas and messages comparing modern Israel with Nazi Germany are not uncommon at anti-Israel rallies and on anti-Zionist websites. And we have seen a lot of those — and a general increase in anti-Israel hysteria — in recent years.
This thought scares me. Many anti-Zionists don’t realize or don’t care that their activism sometimes invokes anti-Jewish stereotypes, demonizes Israeli Jews and traumatizes the American Jewish community. These anti-Zionists are spreading anti-Semitism, however much they may deny it. But it’s much harder to fight this kind of anti-Semitism than it is to fight the kind that expresses itself with “Kristallnacht Lives.”
For now we don’t know. Hopefully we’ll catch the perpetrators and find out what they were intending with their hateful message. If it was the work of anti-Zionists, though, there is a nice irony here: while the vandalism took place, Casspi was in Israel, helping to lead a program at the Peres Peace Center that gets Israeli and Palestinian youth together to play basketball and establish better relations.