(RNS) The incident seems like a straightforward hate crime: swastikas sprayed on and around the New Jersey home of an Indian-American running for Congress earlier this month.
But the vandalism is steeped in religious and ethnic irony.
Democrat Peter Jacob may have been targeted because he has a Jewish-sounding last name, but he is not Jewish.
Neither is he Hindu — the religion of most people in India, where he was born.
In fact, Jacob is a Christian, and he recognizes that using a swastika as a symbol of hatred twists its meaning for millions of people who consider it a holy mark of auspiciousness and joy.
“The swastika is a positive symbol originating from the Hindu religion, but has been usurped by the Nazis and other nefarious groups who seek to twist the symbol literally and metaphorically to serve negative and evil purposes,” said Jacob in a statement to the Hindu American Foundation.
Political and religious leaders across a spectrum of faiths joined Jacob on his porch for an Oct. 11 news conference in which they denounced the vandals who targeted his home on two separate occasions.
Jacob said his opponent, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, bears responsibility in the incidents because he endorsed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has been accused of emboldening racists with rhetoric that blames minorities for the country’s ills.
Lance rejected that charge, and called the defacing of Jacob’s home “abhorrent.”
Police in Union Township are investigating the vandalism. Jacob is challenging Lance to represent New Jersey’s 7th District, not far from New York City.