Israeli man pleads guilty to hate crime in Spring Valley library fight, may be deported
Gal Vanunu, 33,
SPRING VALLEY — A 33-year-old man who was drunk and shouted racially charged comments during a fight at a local library pleaded guilty to a hate crime and faces deportation to Israel for being in the U.S. illegally.
Gal Vanunu pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment as a hate crime and was sentenced to time-served of 12 days in the county jail by Justice David Fried on Wednesday.
“We wanted to send a loud message if you commit a hate crime we intend to prosecute the matter to the fullest,” District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said Friday.
Vanunu, an Israeli national living in the U.S. illegally beyond his visa for 10 years, has been taken into custody for a deportation hearing by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, his lawyer, Kenneth Gribetz, said.
Vanunu had too much to drink at lunch March 24 and ended up at the Finkelstein Memorial Library, which is a few blocks from where the Seattle resident was staying with friends, his attorney said.
Vanunu had never gone into the building before that Saturday, Gribetz said.
“He expressed remorse and attrition,” Gribetz said. “He was extremely apologetic. There was no justification.”
Zugibe said being drunk didn’t mitigate Vanunu’s behavior.
“Being inebriated allows people to say what they really believe, at times, and is no excuse,” Zugibe said.
Vanunu got into a confrontation with a mother inside the library, then got into a fight with security guard Vincent Abrahams, who escorted him from the building, according to court documents.
Spring Valley police officer Joseph Brown responded to the fight between Vanunu and the guard. Brown and Abrahams are black, and Vanunu, who is white, yelled curses and racial remarks at them.
Abrahams said he suffered cuts and bruises to his hands and knees, according to a complaint.
Vanunu was charged with misdemeanor counts of third-degree attempted assault, second-degree aggravated harassment, second-degree harassment and disorderly conduct.
The aggravated harassment count involves bias-related actions or threats against a person, including those based on race, religion or sexual orientation.
The judge ordered Vanunu be held on $25,000 bail. Vanunu also was served with an immigration warrant, which kept him in jail.
Vanunu’s actions brought criticism from NAACP leader Wilbur Aldridge, who claimed such behavior could only increase tensions in the community.
The Jewish Federation of Rockland County and the Holocaust Museum and Study Center issued a statement that they were saddened by the racially motivated harassment at the library, which is next door to the Holocaust center off Route 59.
“We deeply regret that members of our community were subject to these alleged bias-related offenses and condemn these acts forcefully,” the statement said.
The statement came from Holocaust center executive director Tanja Sarett and federation executive director Diane Sloyer.
They said the incident created a teaching moment.
“Together we appeal to all citizens to look out for each other and to show respect of their fellow residents,” the statement said. “Small acts of kindness can transform everyone, touch hearts beyond any divide and open up dialogue. Let us not wait, but plant our seeds of tolerance in Rockland.”