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2016-10-21 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


October 21, 2016  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Hate crime? Desecrated flag found at Tampa temple

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

The Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League says she hopes the Tampa Police Department investigates an incident at Congregation Schaarai Zedek on Saturday, Oct. 15 as a hate crime.

A desecrated American flag was found on the grounds of the Tampa synagogue that day with messages written on the flag blaming Jews for media bias and an open immigration policy, according to Congregation President Robert Tannenbaum.

“It is clear that anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews was the motive,” behind the flag desecration, said Hava Holzhauer, Florida regional director for the ADL.

The Florida region of the Anti-Defamation League keeps track of anti-Semitic incidents every year as part of a nationwide “audit” the ADL publishes yearly on anti-Semitic incidents. Holzhauer said the incident at Schaarai Zedek is exactly the type that is included in the yearly audit.

“I think it is especially sad that we have come so far [in combatting anti-Semitism] and it is disgusting,” Tannenbaum said. “I am saddened that there still exists an element in society with this much hatred.”

Asked if he thought the incident was a hate crime, Tannenbaum said he is not a lawyer and is unsure of what the definition of a hate crime is, but, “It was targeting Jews and it is hateful.”

Four days after opening an investigation, the Tampa Police Department not only had not determined if the incident was a hate crime, but apparently had not even determined if it was a crime at all.

Initially, the police department reported to the media that a desecrated flag was found at the temple but the report did not state what messages were on the flag. The report noted, “At this time, TPD detectives have not located any video that aids in the investigation and there are no suspects.”

When asked if the incident was being investigated as a hate crime, Tampa Police Public Information Officer Eddy Durkin said, it is being investigated as a “potential” crime.

“It will be through the course of the investigation to determine what, if any, criminal categorization this would fall into, including being listed as a hate crime. While we are not releasing the exact verbiage, the only thing I can confirm is that the message on the flag blamed Jews for media bias and immigration problems,” he said.

Florida statutes define a hate crime as “criminal acts that evidence prejudice based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin.” Those convicted of hate crimes face enhanced penalties. The act of desecrating an American flag is not, in and of itself, a crime, as the Supreme Court has ruled that it is an act of free speech. The messages on the flag, however, seem to fit the definition of a hate crime.

Tannenbaum sent an email to members of the congregation to make them aware of the incident, and commented, “Out of an ongoing abundance of caution, we maintain a robust security presence. Please be assured that the safety and security of everyone is our first priority.”

Holzhauer said the incident “is a reminder for security being a 365-day a year concern for Jewish institutions and for those institutions to review its security policies and procedures.

She emphasized the importance of incidents like the one at Schaarai Zedek being reported. “The community should not shy away from reporting.”

Even if the case is not solved, the report could be helpful in connecting it to other incidents that may lead to an arrest. She also noted, “All violence related to hate and extremism begins with the way people think.”

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