‘We're afraid.’ Police investigating protester who climbed New Haven menorah
Authorities are investigating the "desecration" of a Hanukkah menorah on the New Haven Green over the weekend. In a now-viral video, a protester with their face covered is seen climbing the 30-foot tall menorah and hanging a Palestinian flag from it, as others urge the person to get down.
Political leaders and Jewish groups condemned the act. But for now, police don't believe a crime occurred.
The incident happened during a pro-Palestinian march on Saturday – one of a dozen since the Israel-Hamas war began. The flag was quickly removed and there was no damage to the menorah, according to Mayor Justin Elicker.
"We, in New Haven, condemn hate and condemn antisemitism," he said at a Monday morning news conference. "We can hold strong beliefs. But in New Haven, we always treat each other with mutual respect."
Elicker said the matter has been referred to Connecticut State Police's Hate Crimes Task Force, as well as state and federal prosecutors. But New Haven police said they have not been able to identify the person who climbed the menorah.
"At this point, since there's no vandalism or theft, we're just treating it as a potential hate crime," said Assistant Chief David Zannelli. "Although we do categorize it as a hateful incident."
Organizers of Saturday's march condemned the action, and said the person was not affiliated with them.
Gov. Ned Lamont spoke out, saying, "Acts like this have no place here."
Yale University also issued a statement.
"Yale condemns in the strongest possible terms the desecration of a menorah on the New Haven Green during the religious holiday of Chanukah. The placement of a Palestinian flag on the menorah conveys a deeply antisemitic message to Jewish residents of New Haven, including members of the Yale community," the university said. "At this time, Yale has no information as to whether the perpetrator was a member of the Yale community."
Schools across the country are facing growing pressure to crack down on a dramatic spike in hate speech. Over the weekend, University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill resigned after struggling to answer questions during a congressional hearing last week.
"The Jewish community – while we're strong, we're afraid," said Gayle Slossberg, a former Democratic state senator who is now CEO of the Greater New Haven Jewish Federation. "It's hard for [students] to see the slogans that are out there, and it feels scary to them."
Muslim students have also reported threats at the University of Connecticut.
But not everyone is condemning Saturday's action. Monday's press conference abruptly ended when Dan Garrett, a fellow Jew from Hamden, defended the protester.
"I am watching genocide taking place in Gaza," Garrett said. "He's standing up for the defenseless people in Gaza who are being massacred as we speak."
Across the state, more than a dozen rallies have criticized Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip, which has killed an estimated 16,000 Palestinians – although that number is in dispute. On Saturday, protesters briefly entered the governor's residence in Hartford during a Christmas event that was open to the public.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-New Haven) acknowledged the dual reality.
"We have to be conscious of what is happening as well to civilians in Gaza," she said. "And our heart is full and wanting to provide the kind of humanitarian aid that's necessary for Gaza, for Israel. People have been displaced there as well."