Swastika earrings reportedly no longer for sale at Brooklyn jewelry store

The owner of a Brooklyn jewelry store criticized for selling swastika earrings will reportedly stop selling the controversial item.

New York City Councilman Steve Levin, D-Brooklyn, visited Bejeweled in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on Wednesday and met with owner Young Sook Kim, who agreed to remove them from the shelves, the Daily News reports.

A day earlier, politicians and advocates told FoxNews.com that the earrings were the latest example of anti-Semitism in New York and New Jersey. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer demanded that the store immediately stop selling them.

"Let me be clear -- a swastika is not a fashion statement," Stringer said in a statement to FoxNews.com. "It is the most hateful symbol in our culture, and an insult to any civilized person."

But the store's manager defended the $5.99 earrings, saying the swastika is a symbol of eternity in Tibetan Buddhism, not just a symbol popularized by Nazi Germany.

"It's not a Nazi symbol," Kim told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. "I don't know what's the problem. My earrings are coming from India as a Buddhist symbol."

The swastika -- an equilateral cross with arms bent at right angles -- is an ancient symbol that remains used in Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. It was also used by Native Americans long before it was adopted by Adolf Hitler during his rise to power in the 1930s.

Kim said she had received no complaints about the earrings as of early Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Stringer detailed a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in Manhattan and Brooklyn dating back to October, when two anti-Semitic letters were sent to the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. Most recently, four swastikas were found scrawled on business storefronts in Manhattan on Sunday. Other incidents include the mugging of a prominent rabbi in Brooklyn on Jan. 4 and a Brooklyn subway station defaced with "Avenue JEW" graffiti on Nov. 11, he said.

"When this kind of outrageous attack takes place, it doesn’t just harm the Jewish community -- it is an attack on all of us,” Stringer said in a statement. "New York is a city that prides itself on tolerance, acceptance and diversity, and that’s why we must all speak up and condemn these vulgar crimes wherever and whenever they take place."

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said there were 104 anti-Semitic bias cases citywide in 2011, compared to 134 in 2010, or a reduction of 22 percent.

Four suspects -- two Asian females and two Asian males, aged 17 to 21 -- are being sought in connection to the swastikas found on Manhattan storefronts, according to the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force. A video of the incidents was made public on Tuesday. No arrests have been made.

Ron Meier, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League's New York office, said the organization is offering a reward of $2,500 for information leading to arrests pertaining to the midtown graffiti. Meier also noted a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in New York's Long Island and New Jersey, where graffiti appeared on a Hackensack synagogue on Dec. 21 that read "Jews Did 9/11" and "14/88," a number referencing white supremacy. Similar graffiti was found on a synagogue in nearby Maywood, N.J., ADL officials said.

Meier said the rash of anti-Semitic incidents in both states is "much more likely" fueled by ignorance, hate and prejudice rather than a copycat mentality. And while the apparent spike is "very, very concerning," he cautioned against drawing a larger connection to at least nine incidents dating back to October.

"It remains to be seen whether this is a two-month uptick or a preview of whether we're going to see more of these activities," he said. "Time will tell."

In 2010, ADL officials logged 205 anti-Semitic incidents in New York State, compared to 209 in 2009, Meier said.

"And every one of them creates ripples of fear, uncertainty and vulnerability," he said. "That's why we and other groups respond forcefully to these events."

Meanwhile, Ken Stern, director of the American Jewish Committee's division on anti-Semitism and extremism, said he thinks many shoppers in Brooklyn will find the swastika earrings offensive, particularly in such a diverse community.

"It's a symbol associated with the death of 6 million people," he said. "You'd hope [the owner] would have the sensibility not to sell them. She has the right to do it, but I don't think it's a very sensitive thing. If I were running the shop, I would choose not to sell them."

In November, a nationwide ADL survey found that 15 percent of Americans -- nearly 35 million adults -- hold deeply anti-Semitic views, an increase of 3 percent from a similar poll conducted in 2009. The highest level of anti-Semitic attitudes was reported in 2002, when an ADL poll found 17 percent of Americans held anti-Jewish beliefs.

Fourteen percent of respondents agreed with the statement that "Jews have too much power in the U.S. today," an increase from 13 percent in 2009, and 15 percent agreed that Jews are "more willing to use shady practices," up slightly from 2009.

The 2011 Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews in America, a national telephone survey of 1,754 adults, was conducted last month and had a margin of error of roughly 3 percentage points.