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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Naples neighbors targeted by religious hate crimes (USA)

Neighbors in a Naples community have become the victims of a rash of recent hate crimes.

The graffiti plastered on Michael Gilberg's garage door tears open old wounds. A large swastika has been painted there in plain view.

This is the latest attack he's received because of his religion.

"It's unfortunate. It's despicable and it shouldn't happen," Michael says.

Last week, Michael and his neighbor, Rick Mellon, also received hate mail.

"It was a picture of a fist with a raised middle finger with a personalized message," Michael said.

"It was the culmination and the most despicable display of anti-Semitism," said Rick.

They believe someone in their gated Naples community could be to blame for the religious persecution.

"It has to be somebody here, or somebody who has access," Michael says.

The executive director of the Wyndemere Homeowner's Association says this is an isolated incident. They are appalled and Wyndemere values their multi-cultural community.

Rick doesn't agree.

"There is a great degree of anti-Semitism in Wyndemere," he says, "It started because we stood up for the rights of our families and the right of our religious beliefs."

Rick and Michael say they felt a backlash after asking that a menorah be included in the holiday d├ęcor and when they questioned the association for not allowing gardeners and other contractors to work inside Wyndemere on Christian holidays.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office is investigating the crimes, and some neighbors have offered to help paint.

Meanwhile, the men worry about what may happen next.

Rick believes, "If we don't address hate crimes, if we don't address the anti-Semitism, if we don't stop it not only for people of the Jewish religion, but for all people of any religion, it's going to escalate."