Sheriff urges religious site vigilance amid Middle East tension

CREATED Jul 28, 2014 - UPDATED: Jul 28, 2014

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MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke believes religious sites in the Milwaukee area could be targets of hate as tension escalates in the Middle East.  

Clarke is asking people to call law enforcement if they see suspicious activity near synagogues, mosques, temples, churches and even religious cemeteries.

“There are a number of paths to God through different religions, but I want people to be able to exercise theirs in the way that they choose,” Clarke said.  ““It isn’t the Jewish community or the Palestinians.  It’s that third group of opportunists, extremists that might attack one side or the other.”

Emotions ran high Sunday outside Congregation Shalom in Fox Point.  Pro-Palestinian demonstrators shouted and hissed toward people leaving an Israeli peace gathering in the synagogue.

“We are against all extremism,” Islamic Society of Milwaukee executive director Othman Atta told the demonstrators.  “We will never walk away or kneel in front of the Israelis.”

Sheriff Clarke attended the event inside the synagogue.  He says he is worried protests could escalate to acts of vandalism or violence.

“I’m calling on the public,” Clarke said.  “Keep an eye on these facilities so that everybody can freely practice their religion.”

Islamic leaders at Baitul Qadir Mosque in Milwaukee denounced the Sunday synagogue protest.  They encouraged an expression of views in less confrontational ways.

“Behavior like that is totally unacceptable.  Protesting is not going to accomplish anything,” said Rizwan Ahmad, a spokesperson for the mosque.  “Write op-eds.  Voice your opinion in a dialogue, not in a shouting match.  You’re going to be much more effective in that.”

Mark Shapiro, executive director of the Jewish Community Center, says the faithful should be able to attend their house of worship without fear of violence.

“There needs to be, has to be a respect for the way each person chooses to live their life,” Shapiro told TODAY’S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.  “This is not our battle to fight specifically out here in Milwaukee.  It’s ours to support those who are really on the front lines in the Middle East.”

Deputies kept both sides separated outside the synagogue on Sunday.  There were no arrests.  

The sheriff’s office says they have not been made aware of any local threats related to the Middle East conflict.