The Jewish community has taken pity on one of the youths who desecrated graves at a cemetery in Auckland with Nazi symbols - causing worldwide outrage - and is even offering to pay his university tuition fees so he can turn his life around.
Robert Moulden, 19, pleaded guilty to a charge of intentional damage in the Auckland District Court last year and will be sentenced next month. His co-accused, Christian Landmark, 20, has pleaded not guilty and appears in court again on Tuesday.
More than a dozen headstones in the Jewish quarter of the Symonds St Cemetery were vandalised with images of swastikas and expletive-ridden anti-Israeli messages on October 19. It is proving incredibly difficult to remove paint from the porous headstones, which date back to the 19th century, and the repair job could cost as much as $50,000.
Moulden is a beneficiary, lives in a hostel in central Auckland, and says he has no family support. He has gone through a restorative justice programme with members of the Jewish community, has been taught about the Holocaust and has even gone to one member's house for a Friday night Shabbat dinner.
The chairman of the Jewish Council of New Zealand, Geoff Levy, confirmed that during a restorative justice meeting offers were made to pay for Moulden to attend engineering courses at AUT University.
"When we asked him what he wanted to do with himself he expressed a desire to follow engineering if he could," Levy said. "We've given this young man a chance to respond to the offers, and we've appointed someone to liaise with him to see whether he can be helped, or wants to be helped.
"He's going to have to want to do something himself. If we can help him, we're happy to do that. But it's got to be consistent with realising the damage he's done, paying the price that society demands of him and making sure it will not happen again.
"Hopefully we can provide him with support, mentoring and assistance in getting an education, so that he will be able to make the best decisions next time when faced with a choice."
It is understood others in the Jewish community are upset by the offer, believing Moulden does not deserve help. Levy admitted he was unsure if it was the right move, and nothing had been finalised.
"I was very pleased with the way people around the table responded to the guy and the way he interacted with everybody, that was good. On the other hand, I still have some doubts. I feel pretty negative about the damage he did. He said he'd been drinking . . . he manifested all the attributes of a drunken lout."
But Levy said the Old Testament spoke of the need to help all citizens of a city. He said Moulden's background was, sadly, typical of many Kiwis. "His parents split up at an early age, he then goes from pillar to post . . . he goes to different schools, he's shifted around, he has no stability, no base to call his own."
But he had finished the seventh form, spoke well, and had offered to help clean the cemetery.
"In the absence of a definite statement that he's a bad egg anti-Semite who doesn't want to be reformed, members of the Jewish community said they would help and see what they could do to make sure he had every chance to reform himself. It doesn't derogate from the need for him to pay a penalty for what he has done, or the need to restore the cemetery or the anger and upset we feel as a community."
Auckland community leader Naida Glavish was present at the meeting because of her experience with restorative justice. She said the outcome showed how helpful the process could be.
She was impressed with the way the Jewish leaders handled themselves. "Desecration of graves is a terrible thing . . . they were angry, but they expressed their anger very calmly, and at the end offered this young man an avenue to get to know them."
She was also impressed with Moulden. "It was a very courageous thing to do. He admitted youth and stupidity. He was cross-examined by them. I thought he learned a very valuable lesson and received an opportunity as well at the end of it."
Moulden declined to say if he would take up the offer.
- © Fairfax NZ News