'Cowardly' graffiti on Belfast mural to Irish Zionist who fought in WWI being treated as a hate crime

Lt Col James Henry Patterson commanded a volunteer force called the 'Jewish Legion' which fought bravely during the war

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The defacing of a Belfast war memorial to a soldier who led the "Jewish Legion" has been condemned as a “cowardly attack" on an Irish hero.

The words “scum” and “Nazis” were daubed on a mural honouring Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson who commanded the volunteer battalions of the 'Jewish Legion' as they fought against the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it was treating the incident as a hate crime.

Stephen Silverman, the director of investigations and enforcement at the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), told The Independent: “Lt Col John Henry Patterson commanded the so-called Jewish Legion during the First World War. 

“Whilst his men fought with distinction, Lt Col Patterson had to defend them from the anti-Semitism of his superiors, even threatening to resign his commission. 

“This cowardly attack on a memorial to one of Northern Ireland’s heroes must be punished with the full force of the law.”

Lt Col Patterson, a Christian born in what is now the Republic of Ireland, commanded five battalions of the British Army which were nicknamed the “Jewish Legion”. They served at Gallipoli and in what was then called Palestine.

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The grave of Lt Col John Henry Patterson and his wife Frances Helena are re interred in Israel in 2014 (AFP/Getty Images)

Despite being Protestant he later became a passionate advocate of the establishment of the state of Israel, a cause known as Zionism, due to the bravery of the Jewish soldiers under his command. 

His body was laid to rest along with his wife in Israel near the bodies of those he served with in 2014 in accordance with his final wish. 

The incident comes as there are increasing concerns about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents. 

In January the head of the European Jewish Congress, Dr Moshe Kantor, told the European Parliament that Jewish people were at risk from a dangerous rise in political extremism

He told MEPs of his “deep concern” at the rise of intolerant “populism and isolationism running through the democracies of the West”.

He said: “It is truly disturbing that in living memory of the Holocaust, today in Europe we have a situation where the far right is gaining popularity in every major country on the continent. 

“It is once more becoming acceptable in polite circles to openly make anti-Semitic, xenophobic and bigoted remarks, all under the cloak of national patriotism.”

Earlier this month, The Independent revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted it was wrong not to prosecute far-right activist Jeremy Bedford-Turner who claimed the West were “slaves” to the “Zionist agenda”.

It agreed to consult the CAA in future when making decision on similar anti-Semitism cases after the charity applied for a judicial review of the decision not to prosecute Mr Bedford-Turner on the grounds it would violate his right to free speech.

PSNI Inspector James Murray said: "Sometime between the evening of Thursday 16 March and early hours of Friday 17 March a memorial was defaced at the junction of Beverley Street and Northumberland Street.

“The incident is being treated as a hate crime and police would like to hear from anyone with information or anyone who was in the area and noticed anything or anyone suspicious”.

People with information are being asked to call the PSNI on 101 quoting reference 299 17/03/17 or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.