May 27—Sidney police are investigating an incident involving antisemitic graffiti spray-painted on a Muslim-owned business over the weekend.
Tarik Ozer, who owns Premier Roofing & Remodeling on Main Street, said his employees noticed the word "Jew" spray-painted on a dumpster outside the warehouse of his newest business venture on an adjacent side street when they reported for work Monday morning.
Ozer, a member of Osmanli Dergah, a Muslim community in Sidney Center, said the message was confusing in its target.
"It just shows how ignorant people are, and it's such a sad thing for our Jewish brothers," he said. "There's so much antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate in our neighborhoods. It's sad to go to work knowing you have neighbors who can't stand you."
Omar Siddiqi, who volunteers as a liaison between Osmanli Dergah and local law enforcement, said the incident was reported to New York State Police, the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, and the Village of Sidney Police Department, whose officers have been "taking it seriously."
"We are Muslims, and this person attacked our business with graffiti saying 'Jew,'" he said. "While we aren't Jewish ourselves, we don't want members of the Jewish community or anyone else being subjected to hate attacks."
Sidney Police Chief Eric Oliver said a motive has yet to be identified.
"It could be a hate crime or it could just be kids being stupid, but we don't really have much to work with," he said. "It's the only incident in the village we're aware of."
Oliver said a preliminary investigation found the graffiti to be an isolated incident, unaccompanied by repeat acts or threats of any kind.
The warehouse, about a block off of Main Street on Cartwright Avenue, is undergoing renovations and doesn't yet have security cameras or even a sign, Ozer said. The property is owned by Sidney Mayor Andy Matviak, who employs a handful of yarmulke-wearing Jewish men.
"It happened on a back-end street where there's a lot of kids hanging out and people walking around," Matviak said. "It could have been anyone. As a business owner, I certainly don't like it."
"There's nothing in big lettering that says 'Muslim business.' It would have to be someone local who saw somebody 'different-looking' coming in or out," Siddiqi said, noting that many Osmanli Dergah residents wear beards and are distinct in their dress. "This is somebody taking their hate out on the only people in the area that look different."
Osmanli Dergah has been the target of what Siddiqi described as "various acts of hate" over the years, which he credited as advancing the community's relationship with local law enforcement.
Osmanli Dergah members have been on high alert amid the latest clashes between Israel and Palestine, which escalated last month amid the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and left more than 260 people dead.
"After the recent violence in Palestine, we have seen what we tend to see whenever there are any events related to Islam that garner a lot of media attention," said community leader Erdem Kâhyaoglu. "We still have segments of the local population who do still think of us as terrorists. I'm not sure if that will ever change."
Another local Muslim community in Delaware County, has been targeted a few times over the past decade because of their religion. A Tennessee man was convicted in 2017 of plotting to attack the community of Islamberg in the town of Tompkins** in 2015. Later in 2015, the FBI warned of a possible attack by an anti-Muslim activist. Most recently, four Rochester-area teens were arrested in early 2019 after police uncovered a plot to bomb Islamberg.*
"It is unfortunate that in an incident like this, a very loud but very small voice gets highlighted," Kâhyaoglu said. "We try our best to maintain a community that always contributes positively to this area."
Kâhyaoglu said he was grateful for what he described as "tremendous support" from the broader community.
"After the attacks on mosques in New Zealand last year, for example, we had an outpouring of support from law enforcement, local religious organizations, administrators of local universities, business owners, and many of our neighbors," he said.
Ozer said he, too, was thankful for the support of the community. Siddiqi's brother, Hasan, who owns the Tulip & the Rose Cafe in Franklin, shared a photo of the graffiti on Facebook that was shared dozens of times and garnered hundreds of messages of solidarity and support within hours.
"I try to be nice and giving and loving and treat everyone with respect," Ozer said. "If we ignore the evidence of racism and prejudice in our society, we're complicit in it."
"It's racism, prejudice, antisemitism and it could very well be Islamophobia, too," he continued. "This is the kind of stuff that happened in Nazi Germany almost 100 years ago, and it's still happening."
Gil Rubin, president of Congregation B'Nai Israel in Fleischmanns, Delaware County's only synagogue, said his community has not been the subject of any recent acts of hate or discrimination.
"We have not had any incidents, other than the usual mumblings of antisemitism," he said. "It's nothing overt, nothing obvious."
"I think part of the problem is that everybody is so sensitive about these things happening," Matviak said. "As of right now, I don't see this as an ongoing problem in the village."
Of the graffiti, Ozer said, "The intention might have been bad, but the action could have been far worse."
Anyone with information relating to the incident is asked to call the Sidney Police Department at 607-561-2301.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.
*Story changed at 6:56 a.m. May 27 to correct the background of Islamberg.
**changed at 3:10 p.m. May 27 to correct the location of Islamberg.