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Law enforcement investigating anti-Semitic comments in advance of Holocaust survivor’s speech

UPDATED: Wed., June 7, 2017, 9:15 p.m.

Rabbi Yisroel Hahn. (Judith Spitzer / SR)
Rabbi Yisroel Hahn. (Judith Spitzer / SR)

Area law enforcement officers say they are investigating anti-Semitic comments posted on a local social media event page, as well as phone harassment of a local rabbi who is hosting the visit of a Holocaust survivor at the Spokane Convention Center next week.

Rabbi Yisroel Hahn of Spokane said he started seeing hate-filled, anti-Semitic posts on a Facebook event page two weeks ago. The page was created to promote a June 14 speaking event by Marthe Cohn, a 97-year-old Southern California resident who has written a book on her experiences more than 70 years ago in Nazi Germany.

Hahn said comments on the page over the past two weeks included several posts denying the Holocaust, a post that shows the Star of David lit on fire with a comment asking people to spit on the Israeli flag, and others that he described as “hateful and vile.” He said he also has received two or three phone messages with the same type of hateful rhetoric.

Hahn said he has never experienced anything like the hate messages and cyber stalking since he moved to Spokane more than 10 years ago with his family.

Both Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich posted online to Hahn’s Facebook page earlier this week, indicating their involvement in an investigation regarding the cyber stalking.

Online, Meidl urged Hahn to report the incidents to Crime Check and added, “They need to flag it as a hate crime.” On Tuesday, Knezovich wrote that the county is working on the issue and “we will find those responsible for this hate” on Hahn’s Facebook page.

Detective Ben Green, of the Spokane Police Department’s Special Victim’s Unit, said the city has been tracking the case since Hahn notified them last week. “We are taking the appropriate actions to assist Rabbi Hahn. We take these things seriously and are well into the planning of keeping citizens who attend the event safe,” Green said.

Green said it’s too early to say whether the case will be categorized as a hate crime, but that does not change the steps law enforcement officials take to ensure the safety of those involved.

“We will be working with the rabbi to maintain the physical safety of local people through the event next week,” he added.

“Sheriff Knezovich is aware of the comments and remarks on the page, and it’s being looked into,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Mark Gregory. “He stated that if we are able to find out who is doing this, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Hahn said the people who are posting the “vile messages” have proved how important it is for such events to take place.

“I’m hosting a private event for goodness sake. These cowards have targeted an event that is meant to educate the world against bigotry, not just against Jews, but against all human beings,” said Hahn.

The best reaction to the issue, Hahn said, is to have as many people as possible show up to the event at the Convention Center next week.

A high turnout “shows people that we are not intimidated by this nonsense,” he said. “You’re not going to intimidate me. I’m living life as happy as can be, and having this event is the biggest (payback) we can have.”

In addition to reporting the cyber stalking to law enforcement officials, Hahn blocked and reported the messages to Facebook.

Hahn said although he was disturbed by the hate messages online, he has been gratified to see an enormous amount of support for the Holocaust survivor speaker as well. This is the second Holocaust survivor Hahn has hosted in Spokane. In March, Jacob Eisenbach, 93, spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Convention Center about his experiences during the Holocaust, and why they should not be forgotten.

Over the past two months, there has been a small wave of hate incidents in the Spokane area.

On the night of May 4, vandals broke into the Salish School of Spokane and scrawled racial slurs on the walls. One week later, the words “Get out” were spray-painted on the home of a refugee family on the South Side. And in late April, anti-Semitic graffiti praising Adolf Hitler was found on a door of the downtown Community Building, according to reports by The Spokesman Review.