Synagouge in Barbados.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Last Thursday, the exterior walls surrounding a historic Jewish synagogue in Barbados were spray-painted with antisemitic messages.
The local newspaper, The Nation, reported that employees found the graffiti when they turned up for work. A construction company was called and the messages were removed the same day.
The graffiti appeared on walls that surround a historic Jewish cemetery, mikve (ritual bath), synagogue and the Nidhe Israel Museum. The property is within the historic Bridgetown and garrison area that is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
“One worker said some of the messages were antisemitic, while others made reference to the International Monetary Fund,” the paper reported.
A spokesman for the synagogue was quoted as saying he believed the “culprit or culprits were deranged.”
Although it was the first attack of its kind in Barbados in modern times, the museum has documented a 1739 antisemitic outbreak. That attack took place in Speightstown, north of Bridgetown, when “tensions mounted between the Jewish community and the white populace; a mob chased the Jews out of town and sacked the synagogue.”
The Bridgetown synagogue is one of the oldest in the Western hemisphere, originally built in 1654, and has been refurbished to become a major tourist attraction. It was saved from demolition in the 1980s. The opening of a museum on the property in 2008 has revived interest in the history of the Jewish community there. Much of that history can be seen in its cemetery, which contains graves of the Sephardic Portuguese community that settled on the island in the 17th century.
A mikve discovered several years ago has also been excavated and refurbished. During a 2007 visit to an area down the road from the museum on “synagogue lane,” I saw graffiti in the form of a small pink Star of David. However, the current vandalism appears to be the first incident of antisemitism in graffiti form.
Although antisemitic incidents in the Caribbean are rare, anti-Jewish views lie under the surface. A column in the Jamaica Observer in 2015 spoke of the “Jewish exploitation of black artists” and the need for “confronting the Jews with their own history of deep involvement in the black slave trade.”
It accused Jews of being “merchants who targeted black cotton sharecroppers growing extremely wealthy in the process and the Jews who became Ku Klux Klan members and even supplies of guns, sheets and hoods to the Klan.” The anti-Jewish column was “prepared by the Nation of Islam Research Group,” according to that organization’s website.
The ADL Global 100 index found relatively low levels of antisemitism in Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, the three countries included in its 2013-14 survey.
Nonetheless, in each country between 18% and 26% of respondents answered a list of questions in a manner deemed antisemitic.