The Union Township home of Peter Jacob, the Democratic opponent of Rep. Leonard Lance in the race for the Dist. 7 congressional seat, was defaced by swastikas twice in a four-day period — even though the candidate is not Jewish.
Peter Jacob, who is a Christian of Indian descent, found two swastikas scrawled on the sidewalk in front of his home on Oct. 7, which were reported to police and cleaned off by a neighbor. However, either late Oct. 9 or early in the morning Oct. 10, two more swastikas were found spray-painted on the back walls of his home along with a symbol that the police say could be the tag of an unidentified group. Police pointed to paint on the back doorknob as possible evidence that the perpetrators also attempted to break in. A yard sign on Jacob’s lawn and one on his neighbor’s lawn were also vandalized.
At a press conference held Oct. 11, Jacob, whose parents emigrated from India in 1986, said, “People have asked, ‘Are you scared? Do you feel any anxiety? Are you worried?’ I always answer them, ‘This nation has given us so much. There’s nothing but love and hope in our hearts.” He added, “This is our town. This is our community. This our state, and we will not be intimidated.”
Shortly before the conference, Jacob told NJJN that he felt whoever was responsible probably thought he was Jewish. “People mistake my name,” he said. “I get that a lot. Nonetheless it’s a symbol of hate. It tells people, ‘I hate you.’”
He laid the blame for the incident partly on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. He told NJJN, using a term that Hillary Clinton coined during the first presidential debate, “What we call ‘Trumped-up trickle-down racism’ is affecting our communities, our nation, all our states,” said Jacob. “I think it exacerbates the social tensions already existing in our country and enables people to say, ‘Hey, I can do things like this.’”
During the conference, Jacob also mentioned a recent blog posting by his opponent that included a photo of Jacob along with that of Orlando, Fla., night club shooter Omar Mateen. According to Jacob, the message was “[H]ere is a brown-skinned person next to another brown skinned person who is a terrorist. Is this a person you want to vote for?”
He continued, “Our nation deserves better political discourse than this.”
Lance was not invited to attend the press conference. Jacob’s communications director, Michael Kane, was quoted in the Courier News on Oct. 10 stating that the invitation was not extended “due to [Lance’s] support of Donald Trump,” but Jacob flatly denied that reasoning at the press conference.
Reached by telephone after the conference, Lance, who had already denounced the first act in a statement, reiterated his concern after the second incident. “I abhor this second attack and condemn it completely,” he said. “It and the prior attack have no place in the United States political discourse.”
Lance also offered his disappointment at not being invited to the press conference. “If Peter Jacob had wanted this to be nonpartisan or bipartisan, I wish he would have permitted me to join him.” Asked about the role of language in the attack, while he agreed that “this has not been a particularly elevated presidential election season,” he disagreed with Jacob’s assessment. “Is this a result of that rhetoric? I think it’s the act of someone with a sick mind. I don’t know the motivation beyond that.” He also said, regarding the potential impact of his own blog post, “I was not comparing the two, but rather our views on the motivation of the Orlando shooter.”
Police director Dan Zieser called the graffiti “an isolated incident,” and said the investigation was ongoing.
At the conference, Jacob was joined by a collection of clergy, politicians, and civic organization leaders who each condemned the acts, including Rabbi Mark Mallach of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield who blew a shofar “to sound the call for justice”; Father Shibu Daniel of the St. Thomas Orthodox Church of India in Dove, where Jacob is a member; Abdul-Alim Mubarak-Rowe, communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey; Khader “Ken” Abuassab, representing the Arab American Civic Organization in Paterson; Dr. M. Ali Chaudry, founder and executive director of the NJ Interfaith Coalition; Union Township Mayor Manuel Figueiredo; the Rev. Howard A. Bryant Sr. of the Third-Westminster Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth; Union County Freeholder Mohamed Jaloh; Freeholder chair Bruce Bergen; Joshua Cohen, ADL’s NJ regional director; along with many others, including Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains and Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.
Cohen of the ADL called the swastikas “a brazen act of hate” that are “attacks on the entire community.” He added, “I’m so moved that so many members of the community are brought together today to stand up to say no to hate, to reject his kind of bias and bigotry in our community.”
In a statement released earlier, Cohen said the ADL commended both Lance and Jacob for “swiftly and forcefully” condemning the attack, adding, “It is clear that combating hate and bigotry is a nonpartisan issue.”
The incident comes a month after a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti in Ocean and Monmouth County. According to ADL’s annual “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents,” which tracks both criminal and noncriminal acts of anti-Semitism, New Jersey experienced a 28 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the state in 2015.