Pence, Missouri governor join cleanup at vandalized Jewish cemetery

Historic Jewish cemetery vandalized
Historic Jewish cemetery vandalized

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Story highlights

  • Vice President Mike Pence condemns anti-Semitism in visit to damaged cemetery
  • Vandals toppled nearly 200 headstones at cemetery in a St. Louis suburb

(CNN)Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Wednesday added their voices -- and cleanup skills -- to those condemning the vandalizing of a Jewish cemetery in a St. Louis suburb.

The two men visited the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City, where at least 170 headstones were toppled and damaged. Greitens said President Donald Trump called him Wednesday morning to thank the people of Missouri "for standing up in the fight against anti-Semitism."
    Pence thanked residents for their efforts to restore the toppled headstones and said, "There is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism."
    After Pence and Greitens concluded their remarks, they prayed with others at the scene, then Pence picked up a rake and helped in the cleanup.
    A fundraiser for the cemetery is sending a strong message of unity and tolerance.
    The effort, organized by Muslim American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, was launched this week to fund the repairs of the toppled headstones.
    The fundraiser exceeded its goal of $20,000 so fast it has expanded into an effort to support Jewish community centers that have been targets of anti-Semitism.
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    Jewish community on edge after bomb threats

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    Members of the community have been left rattled.
    "A lot of people are coming out (to the cemetery) -- they're just interested to see, 'Was their loved one's monument affected by this?' " Phillip Weiss, owner of a monument company helping the cemetery lift the downed stones, told CNN affiliate KTVI on Tuesday.
    This year alone, 54 Jewish community centers in 27 states and one Canadian province received dozens of bomb threats, according to the Jewish Community Center Association.
    "All bomb threats this year proved to be hoaxes, and all JCCs impacted have returned to regular operations," the association said.

    Muslim Americans step up to support

    Sarsour of MPower Change and El-Messidi of CelebrateMercy organized the crowdfunding campaign to support the vandalized cemetery.
    Trump: Anti-Semitic threats are horrible
    Trump: Anti-Semitic threats are horrible

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    Their goal of reaching $20,000 by the end of March was surpassed in three hours, with donations at nearly $60,000 and rising early Wednesday.
    CNN has reached out to Sarsour for comment but has not heard back.
    American Muslim communities and organizations have also stepped up to support Jewish community centers that have been the targets of bomb threats. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who made the false bomb threats.
    Muslim Americans' efforts to support the Jewish community centers contrasted with former Sen. Rick Santorum's accusations Tuesday.
    "If you look at the fact, the people who are responsible for a lot of this anti-Semitism that we're seeing, I hate to say it, a lot of it is coming from the pro-Palestinian or Muslim communities," Santorum told CNN's Chris Cuomo. Santorum did not provide details or examples to support his assertion.

    No clues yet

    Police are reviewing security camera tapes from the damaged cemetery, but officials said the footage has not provided any clues on who was behind the attack.
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    The White House has also condemned the spate of threats made against Jewish community centers around the country.
    The response followed weeks of criticism that the Trump administration has not been forceful enough in denouncing the anti-Semitism that has occurred since his election.
    "Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom," White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said. "The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable."