Jews in Cyprus witness spike in anti-Semitic acts

Rabbi cites rising threats, increase in local Muslim population.

cyprus rabbi (photo credit: Tori Cheifetz)
cyprus rabbi
(photo credit: Tori Cheifetz)
With the start of the IDF's Gaza offensive on December 27, the 350-family Jewish community of Cyprus has been targeted by hate crimes, according to the island's chief rabbi, Arie Zeev Raskin. "Since [the] last day of Hanukka (December 29), we have been subjected to anti-Semitic offenses coming mainly from people of Muslim origin," Raskin wrote in an e-mail to benefactors of Cyprus's Jewish community sent out on Thursday. Perhaps hardest hit has been Cyprus's Chabad house. On the last day of Hanukka, a car carrying a hanukkia on its roof and traveling around the country in celebration of the holiday had two of its windows broken. In another incident, a hanukkia that had been placed in Limassol, the second-largest city in Cyprus, was "completely destroyed," according to Raskin On January 25, 50 policemen surrounded the Chabad House, located in the capital city of Larnaca. They said that they had received reports that there was to be an attack on the building. In addition to stone-throwings and on one occasion, the egging of Chabad House, verbal assaults have been mounted against the Jewish community by telephone. "We received phone calls in which people accused us of killing innocent people," Raskin said. "I tried to explain to them that we are a Jewish educational organization and that we have nothing to do with the Israeli government." Raskin and members of the Jewish community have met with local security officials as well as Israelis to discuss the situation. "They have recommended us putting up heavy walls and doors, and security alarms," he said. "It's not something that makes us happy, but we have to take some kind of action." In his e-mail message, Raskin appealed for donations to fund a more comprehensive security system for the Chabad House, which serves as the multi-purpose building for the entire Jewish community. "Due to this, meetings with security specialists, police and civil authorities were arranged, and plans for the enhancement of our security systems were drawn up," he wrote. "We find ourselves facing a different and totally unexpected horizon, which requires expenses that we were not ready for." With the increase in violent attacks, Raskin expressed concern for what he sees as the ineffectiveness of the authorities in Larnaca. "The local authority doesn't recognize the situation we're in," he said. "They say, 'Don't worry, we're looking after you.'" "Last Friday night we saw two suspicious-looking men standing in front of Chabad House. We called the police and it took them 40 minutes to come!" Raskin declared. Raskin attributed the rise in anti-Semitism to a growth of the Muslim population in Cyprus. The Second Lebanon War in 2006 saw the arrival of more than 100,000 Lebanese refugees in Cyprus, Raskin said. "They used to be a closed society. Now they are opening up businesses and restaurants and becoming a major part of Cypriot society," he said. Raskin and his family moved to the island in 2003 as emissaries of the Chabad movement. The Jewish community at the time was free of anti-Semitic attacks. "When we came, everything was open," he said. "The gates to Chabad House were open and you could lie on the grass and take a nap." The feelings of Cypriots toward the Jewish community have changed, he said. "You feel it in the street. The locals are not smiling at us like they used to," he said. Raskin said the Jewish community of Cyprus still had one very important thing on its side - economic leverage. "If God forbid anything happens, they're going to lose more than we are," he said. "There are business people and tourists coming here all the time from Israel. The second it's not comfortable for us here, everyone is going to stop coming." "The Jewish business people are coming not only from Israel, but also from St. Petersburg and Moscow, and they are investing a lot of money in businesses and real estate. Cyprus won't want to lose that."