Vandals damaged the sidewalk outside a popular Jewish deli in Naperville after the business closed for the day Sunday, and both the owner and police are calling it a hate crime.
Nothing else was damaged.
Restaurant owner Howard Bender said he was surprised by the vandalism, and angry.
"It's a hate crime," he told the Daily Herald during a break from trying to remove the paint. "We're all shocked."
Police also are considering the vandalism a hate crime because of where it occurred, as well as a case of criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct, Cmdr. Lou Cammiso said.
If "Free Gaza" had been sprayed onto a viaduct or somewhere random, it would have been a political statement, Cammiso said. But at a deli affiliated with a particular religion, he said it meets the definition of a hate crime, an illegal act committed because of a bias against someone in a constitutionally protected class, including ethnicity, religion, ancestry and national origin.
"The message being 'Free Gaza' was obviously left there because it was a Jewish deli," Cammiso said. "The religion of the owners, coupled with the message of the criminal act makes it a hate crime."
Bender said the restaurant has operated for nearly 13 years and called Naperville "a wonderful community." His staff and customers are a mix of Jews and gentiles.
The business opened as scheduled Monday. "I wouldn't close, no way in the world," Bender said.
Bender added posters reading "Hate Has No Home Here" to the restaurant's windows during the day.
He addressed the vandalism in a post on the restaurant's Facebook page.
"Schmaltz is one of the only Jewish restaurants in the area, and we are proud to support the local Jewish community and all members of our community," Bender wrote. "When an American Jewish business is targeted for the actions of another country, and when Jews are lumped together when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not productive, it is anti-Semitism."
Bender went on to say he knows "this is not the true Naperville," and he encouraged people to be kind to people different from them.
"When we take the time to learn from each other, we are actively creating a more compassionate and loving society," Bender wrote.
Naperville police are investigating the vandalism. Investigators hope to review surveillance video footage from the restaurant and neighboring businesses, Cammiso said.
Naperville police haven't received any other recent reports of anti-Semitic vandalism, Cammiso said.