Connecticut police are investigating the “desecration” of a menorah near the Yale University campus as a potential hate crime, New Haven Assistant Police Chief David Zannelli said Monday.
Police are working with state and federal agencies to learn more about the incident, Zannelli said at a news conference that included religious leaders, New Haven’s mayor and US Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
“Since there’s no vandalism or theft, we’re just treating it as a potential hate crime, although we do categorize it as a hateful incident,” Zannelli said, adding police are “definitely still investigating.”
Over the weekend, a Palestinian flag was placed on the menorah. Police said they do not know the identity of the person who put the flag there.
The incident came amid pressure on top universities to address a rise in antisemitic incidents in their communities.
“Yale condemns in the strongest possible terms the desecration of a menorah on the New Haven Green during the religious holiday of Chanukah,” Yale said in a statement Sunday.
“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 school said.
Video of the Yale incident shows a person wearing a keffiyeh around their face and head, which disguised their identity, climbing on the menorah and placing a Palestinian flag on it, while four others can be seen heading to the menorah and are heard telling the person to get down.
The flag was immediately removed, according to Jake Dressler, an attorney who was at the event with a friend who took the video and shared it with CNN.
The incident took place in a public space that is off the Yale campus during a demonstration sponsored by several groups in Connecticut, according to the school.
“At this time, Yale has no information as to whether the perpetrator was a member of the Yale community,” the statement said.
“Let us be clear: this is antisemitism, plain and simple,” a statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven said.
“And we do not intend to sit idly by nor stay silent in the fact of such a brazen act. While we support the right of all people to exercise free speech, the defacement of a menorah, which is itself a symbol of Jewish resilience against all odds, is an act of hate speech against Jews, not a political act against the Jewish state.”
The group Yalies4Palestine is among several that signed a statement condemning the placement of the flag on the menorah and said that the person who did it was not affiliated with “any of the groups present.”
“The organizers of yesterday’s protest in New Haven unequivocally condemn the antisemitic action of an individual unaffiliated with any of the groups present who climbed a menorah and placed the Palestinian flag on it,” the statement, which was posted on Instagram, said. “We are appalled by this behavior, and are especially disappointed since it comes during the religious observation of Hanukkah.”
The actions of the person do not align with the “goals of promoting respectful dialogue and peaceful advocacy,” the statement added.
“As organizers, we apologize deeply for the hurt this has caused,” the statement said. “Moving forward, we will take further precautions to uphold our commitment to foster an inclusive and respectful environment for all participants.”
On Thursday, Yale President Peter Salovey released a statement outlining how the university plans to address antisemitism and Islamophobia amid growing safety concerns prompted by the Israel-Hamas war.