Antisemites Hit in Tacoma After Messianic Raises Flag

By Rebecca Spence

Published September 01, 2006, issue of September 01, 2006.
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On July 12, the day that two Israel Defense Forces soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah, setting into motion Israel’s war in Lebanon, Rebecca Yale lowered the commemorative 9/11 flag she had flown alongside her Stars and Stripes and replaced it with the flag of the State of Israel.

It was only a matter of weeks before antisemitic vandals took notice. On August 14, the day the Lebanon cease-fire went into effect, Yale was watching an evening television drama in the bedroom of her suburban home in Northeast Tacoma, Wash., when someone sprayed lighter fluid in the shape of a cross on her front lawn, set the lawn ablaze and threw a rock with “Jew” scrawled in red crayon at a window.

What the vandal didn’t know is that the inhabitants of the house in Brown’s Point, an upscale neighborhood overlooking Puget Sound, were evangelical Christians. Rebecca’s husband, Keith, is a Christian minister.

Then again, drawing clear dividing lines in this case is not easy. Rebecca, who was born to a Jewish father, in addition to being an evangelical, considers herself a messianic Jew. In another twist, the Church for All Nations, the Tacoma congregation to which the Yales belong, is led by a pastor who grew up as a Conservative Jew.

These complications notwithstanding, the attack is being treated as an antisemitic bias crime. “Clearly they were perceived as being Jewish,” said Robert Jacobs, Pacific Northwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “From our perspective, it doesn’t matter whether they were messianic Jews, Muslims or Mormons. It’s a minority individual, and in this case whoever did it thought they were targeting a Jewish family.”

The ADL, Jacobs said, is offering a $2,500 reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the attackers. Tacoma police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

While there are no hard statistics showing a spike in antisemitic harassment and attacks since July 12, anecdotal evidence suggests that there may have been a slight up-tick in the United States. The Pacific Northwest region certainly has been hardest hit, with this latest example following on the heels of the July 28 shooting at Seattle’s Jewish federation that left one dead and five hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

In the greater Seattle area, which includes Tacoma, there have been “a number of reported incidents” over the last several weeks, according to Jacobs. Two of those incidents took place in Seward Park, a Jewish neighborhood in which the bulk of the city’s Orthodox community resides. An area synagogue was vandalized less than two weeks after the federation shooting, and an elderly man was accosted on his way to services in what police believe may have been an attempted robbery.

But the incident at the Yales’ home is the first case of antisemitic harassment that inadvertently victimized evangelicals, a group known for its vociferous support of Israel.

A prelude to the crime had taken place the previous week, when a car containing four or five men drove by the Yale residence and spit at Rebecca, shouting anti-Jewish slurs at her as she was getting her mail. She said she did not report the incident to the police.

On the evening of the rock throwing, Yale said, she was startled when she heard glass shatter. She ran to the front of her house and raised the window shades in her home office, only to see that her lawn was burning. She initially thought that her house was on fire.

Yale said that when the police arrived, they asked her if she would consider taking down the Israeli flag. She declined.

“My son went to Iraq, served, was wounded and received a Purple Heart,” she said. “I told them I can fly whatever flag I want.”

Rebecca said that the flag still hangs on the pole at the foot of the Yales’ driveway.

Local politicians were quick to seize upon the issue. Several days after the vandals struck, a local Republican political club invited Keith to an event at which he would be honored.

“The Republican party is very strong in its support of Israel, so because of that connection they want to align with me,” he said.

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