U.S. Sees String of Anti-Semitic Attacks Amid Gaza Violence

Protesters burn an Israeli flag at the All Eyes On Palestine protest in New York City on May 14, 2021. Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock

After an 11-day conflict that left 248 Gazans and 12 Israelis dead, the cease-fire established Friday between Israeli and Hamas appears to be holding. Meanwhile, the United States is still dealing with a wave of anti-Semitic violence that appears to be a ripple effect from the Gaza conflict. From New York to Los Angeles, there has been an uptick in reports of anti-Semitic attacks in the past two weeks. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that it received 193 reports of possible anti-Semitic incidents in the week after the Gaza crisis began, up from 131 the previous week. Law enforcement and elected officials have condemned the violence and taken steps to combat it, with President Biden calling the attacks “despicable” on Monday.

In one prominent incident in New York, Joseph Borgen, a 29-year-old Jewish man, was attacked and beaten by a group of people near Times Square while heading to a rally on Thursday night. Footage of the attack was posted to social media.

“Before I can even react, I was surrounded by a crowd of people who, as you saw in the video, proceeded to beat me down and then, after the fact, pepper-spray and mace me,” Borgen said in an interview with CNN.

The NYPD has arrested one suspect in the incident, 23-year-old Waseem Awawdeh, who has been charged with “assault in the second degree as a hate crime and attempted gang assault in the first degree,” according to CNN. Awawdeh was allegedly seen on surveillance footage striking Borgen with a metal crutch.

The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating two additional incidents that took place in Brooklyn’s Borough Park. Police say that on Saturday night, three men in a blue Toyota Camry parked outside a synagogue and yelled, “Free Palestine! Kill all Jews!” at four men standing outside. ABC 7 New York reports that the victims went inside and locked the door. The three men banged on the door but were unable to get inside. They damaged a car and left the scene.

A short time later, a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old were assaulted by two men who demanded that they make anti-Jewish statements. Police say the men punched the teens in the head, put them in a chokehold, and chased them while brandishing a baseball bat. The alleged attackers fled in a blue Toyota Camry and are believed to be the same men involved in the synagogue incident.

The NYPD said it will increase police presence in Jewish communities in light of the attacks, and on Monday afternoon Governor Andrew Cuomo said he will do the same across the state.

In Los Angeles, police have arrested 30-year-old Xavier Pabon, a primary suspect in an attack on Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant last week that is being investigated as an anti-Semitic hate crime. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

The incident began last Tuesday when cars draped with Palestinian flags and people using megaphones passed by the restaurant shouting. A witness told the Los Angeles Times that individuals in the cars started to throw bottles and other objects at the people in the restaurant. The paper said “about eight people” dressed in black approached the diners, as shown in a video that captured part of the attack.

“The fight grows increasingly violent as it spills farther onto the sidewalk. One man swings a metal stanchion at the attackers, who then push him against a car, punch and kick him,” the Times reported.

On Friday, prominent Jewish organizations including the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, and Hadassah, signed a joint letter to President Biden saying they are “grateful” for the current cease-fire, but also expressing “grave concern” about the current violence.

“We fear that the way the conflict has been used to amplify antisemitic rhetoric, embolden dangerous actors and attack Jews and Jewish communities will have ramifications far beyond these past two weeks,” the letter reads.

The organizations also suggested steps that the Biden administration could take, such as appointing an ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat anti-Semitism or convening an in-person White House gathering of “stakeholders from the Jewish community, as well as key officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and the FBI, to discuss the current events and threats, and action steps to address them.”

Early Monday morning, Biden addressed the issue in a statement, saying, “The recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop. I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad — it’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.”

Several Muslim groups have condemned the violence against Jews in the U.S., saying it is wrong and does not help Palestinians. Salam Al-Marayat, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said of the attackers in the L.A. incident, “They did not represent any of our organizations, and they definitely do not represent the Palestinian cause that we feel is just.”

Several instances of Islamophobia have been reported in the U.S. in the wake of the Gaza conflict. The Tayba Islamic Center, a Brooklyn mosque, was vandalized with graffiti that read “Death to Palestine” on May 13, during celebrations of Eid, a Muslim religious holiday, according to NBC News. The Islamic Center of Suffolk County on Long Island also experienced vandalism last Monday, with suspects leaving graffiti and burning a religious flag, as reported by ABC7.

U.S. Sees String of Anti-Semitic Attacks Amid Gaza Violence