Assailant made phony claims of anti-Semitism, possibly to distract from Islamophobic hate crime committed against a visibly Muslim woman at Barclays Center on October 7.
October 20, 2014, Brooklyn, NY — Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 21, a coalition of New Yorkers and human rights groups will hold a press conference to publicize details of an assault complaint filed by Nerdeen Kiswani, a Hunter college student, against a group that includes Leonard Petlakh, a professor at Hunter College and the executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA. The press conference will take place at 11:00 a.m. on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
The assault occurred inside the Barclays Center, at the conclusion of the October 7 basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Israeli team Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Nerdeen Kiswani, a 20 year old, visibly Muslim, Palestinian woman who wears a hijab, attended the game. Ms. Kiswani alleges that at the game’s conclusion, she was assaulted by a group of fans that included Leonard Petlakh; she was struck in the stomach and had a folded Palestinian flag wrenched from her hands. It appears that Petlakh and his friends had staged the assault in fact and were taping and plotting their attack on Ms. Kiswani.
Ms. Kiswani reported the attack to Barclays Center security staff, who only briefly stopped the assailants before letting them proceed. When acquaintances of Ms. Kiswani alerted nearby NYPD officers to both the assault and the negligence of security staff, they were met with similar non-action and even endured threats of arrest themselves. After this, security personnel escorted the assailants from the arena, without further questioning.
Later that night Leonard Petlakh claims he was assaulted and that he was assaulted because he was Jewish, despite the fact that he was not visibly identifiable as a Jewish person. The Hate Crimes Task Force seems to have determined that Leonard Petlakh’s claim was unfounded and untruthful. If this is the case, Mr. Petlakh may have committed a criminal offense by lying to government authorities. We strongly condemn anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism. However, phony accusations of anti-Semitism undermine and take lightly the seriousness and danger of true anti-Semitism. It appears Mr. Petlakh may have concocted his story about being the victim of a hate crime to distract from his own role in the commission of an actual hate crime, namely the assault of Ms. Kiswani, which occurred prior to the incident that Mr. Petlakh speciously alleges to be anti-Semitic. Many news sources, including the NY Daily News, ABC News, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Haaretz were quick to disseminate Mr. Petlakh’s dishonest accusations of anti-Semitism. Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) amplified Mr. Petlakh’s unproven claims, seemingly attempting to smear Palestine solidarity work in New York City.
We condemn the cynical manipulation of the charge of anti-Semitism, which was used to discredit pro-Palestine organizations, particularly Jewish Voice for Peace, and possibly to distract from an Islamophobic hate crime. Moreover, the media’s rush to judgment and failure to investigate violations against pro-Palestine demonstrators is irresponsible journalism that contributes to fear and distrust in New York City. To the credit of the detectives on the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, they have pursued the facts in the case and have been respectful towards Ms. Kiswani.
We feel that sufficient evidence exists to prosecute Ms. Kiswani’s allegations as a hate crime. However, the vastly unequal treatment of victim Nerdeen Kiswani and apparent aggressor Leonard Petlakh at Barclays Center on October 7 is but one example of pervasive institutional discrimination, privileging anti-Palestine groups and individuals.
Join us at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 21 at the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall to call on the District Attorney’s office to investigate Mr. Petlakh’s false claims and to investigate the assault committed against Ms. Kiswani. We will also call on the media to correct the deceitful and misleading narrative that has been presented thus far. We demand nothing less than full equal treatment of pro-Palestine groups and individuals engaged in activism in New York City and beyond.