Israeli leaders condemn hate crime against Arabs

An Israeli-Arab and children are seen on a street next to a graffiti in the village of Abu Gosh near Jerusalem, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Israeli police have launched an investigation to find perpetrators who vandalized cars and sprayed hate graffiti in an Arab town near Jerusalem. The Hebrew graffiti reads, "Racism or assimilation" and "Arabs out." (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli leaders on Tuesday condemned an apparent hate crime in an Arab town near Jerusalem that is known for good relations with its Jewish neighbors.

Residents of Abu Ghosh woke up Tuesday to find dozens of cars damaged and graffiti reading "Arabs out" scrawled on walls. Police said they launched an investigation into the incident, which appeared to be politically motivated.

There have been a string of similar incidents in recent years, believed to have been carried out by extreme Jewish nationalists.

Graffiti with the words "price tag" are usually found onsite. The phrase is usually used by a tiny fringe of Jewish extremists to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government's pro-Palestinian policies.

The vandals have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases in apparent "price tag" attacks.

The acts are widely condemned by Israelis across the political spectrum, but arrests have been rare.

Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke with Abu Ghosh Mayor Salim Jaber after hearing about the incident. "Spraying of hate graffiti against the residents and slashing of tires is racist behavior which crosses a red line. We utterly condemn any expression of racism and vandalism," Peres said. He called Abu Ghosh "a symbol of coexistence."

In a statement released by Peres' office, Jaber said the attack would not affect relations between residents and Jewish Israelis. "We know that this is the act of a small group which seeks to destroy the good relations, but we are stronger than them," Jaber said.

Abu Ghosh, a small town about a 20 minute drive from Jerusalem, is a popular destination for Israelis, thanks to its many restaurants, bakeries and cultural events.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke out against the attack. "What happened today in Abu Ghosh contradicts Jewish law and the values of our people and our country," Netanyahu said.