Jewish cemetery (illustration)
Jewish cemetery (illustration)Flash 90

17 Jewish graves have were destroyed and vandalized in what appears to have been an organized attack inside a Belfast cemetery, The Guardian reported Sunday.

The attack took place on Friday evening and up to eight youths, some using hammers, were involved, according to a member of the Northern Ireland assembly.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has confirmed it is investigating the incident as a hate crime.

The graves, some of which date back to the 1870s, are in a walled-off section of Belfast city cemetery between the Whiterock and Falls roads.

Police official Norman Haslett of the PSNI told The Guardian the attack was “a particularly sickening incident, which we are treating as a hate crime”.

“To disturb the sanctity of a cemetery in this way is completely unacceptable and I can assure the public that we will conduct a robust investigation,” he added.

Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in Europe in recent years and Ireland has not been immune. In 2014, windows were repeatedly smashed at a Belfast synagogue.

In 2013, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) voted to institute an academic boycott against the state of Israel.

The TUI, calling Israel an “apartheid state,” adopted a resolution that “requests all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as cooperation in research programs.”

Democratic Unionist assembly member William Humphrey said on Sunday he has learned from Belfast city council staff that eight youths were involved in the attack on the cemetery and that they used hammers and blocks during the attack.

Humphrey said a larger crowd had gone into the cemetery to support the eight youths carrying out the vandalism. “A graveyard is a sacred place and should be respected as such,” he said, according to The Guardian.

Paul Maskey, Sinn Féin’s West Belfast MP, also condemned those responsible for the vandalism. “Visiting cemeteries can bring great comfort to grieving relatives and friends and it would be very distressing for anyone to have the grave of a loved one desecrated in this way,” Maskey said.