A Brooklyn man charged with assaulting a Jewish resident of Lawrence during a pro-Israel rally in Times Square would serve 6 months in jail as part of a plea deal offered by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
The deal, which sparked the ire of Long Island religious, political and civic leaders on Thursday, calls for Waseem Awawdeh, 23, to plead guilty to second-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, a felony, for his role in the attack on Joseph Borgen on May 20, 2021.
Awawdeh, who is due back in court on Jan. 26, would also serve 5 years on probation and waive his right to appeal, according to District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office.
“Antisemitic hate has no place in Manhattan and the office is requiring felony hate crime pleas and incarceration for three men charged in connection to this despicable attack," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "Our Hate Crimes Unit made these appropriately strong recommendations following a thorough investigation that illuminated facts, evidence, and varying levels of culpability among this group of individuals.”
Prosecutors said Borgen was punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed and struck with a pair of crutches while wearing a yarmulke at the rally.
The attackers cursed Israel, shouted anti-Semitic slurs, praised the Palestinian group Hamas and knocked him to the ground, Borgen has said. The attack occurred hours after Israelis and Hamas announced the end of an 11-day conflict.
Bragg's office said Awawdeh, who has no prior criminal convictions, is charged with striking Borgen four times with his crutch but contends he did not pepper spray, kick or punch the victim or initiate the assault.
Peter Frankel, Awawdeh's Manhattan-based defense attorney, said his client has yet to decide whether to accept the deal.
"He did not initiate this incident," Frankel said. "He was there for a matter of seconds. He was not there when it started or when it ended. He went over and then left right away. There is no indication that his actions caused the victim any injury."
Prosecutors said that after his arrest, Awawdeh told police: "If I could do it again, I would do it again."
Frankel said the comment is out of context. "It was a much larger conversation about what was going on at the protest and how people were throwing things and spitting at Palestinians," he said.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman called Awawdeh the "ringleader" of the group and urged Bragg to rescind the plea deal.
"We are sending a dangerous message to those people who would engage in any kind of hate crime that New York City is going to be lenient," Blakeman said at a Mineola news conference with religious and cultural leaders. "They're going to accept it. This was a violent felony."
Rabbi Shalom Axelrod of Young Israel of Woodmere said the attack comes during a time when antisemitic hate crimes are on the rise in New York City and throughout much of the country.
"And the message here is antisemitism won't hurt," Axelrod said.
In a video shown at the news conference, Borgen recalled being surrounded by pro-Palestinian sympathizers "who proceeded to beat me; kick me; punch me; beat me with weapons and even pepper spray or mace me."
Queens attorney Steven Fink, who is representing Borgen in a lawsuit, said his client "is seeking justice for the wrongs that happened to him."
Three other men, all from Staten Island, have been charged in the assault.
Prosecutors have not offered plea deals to Mohammed Othman and Mahmoud Musa and want them to each plead guilty to second-degree assault as a hate crime and serve 3 1/2 to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors would allow Faisal Elezzi to plead guilty to third-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, a misdemeanor, with a sentencing condition of intensive programming.
An unidentified 14-year-old boy has also been charged although prosecutors had no details on his case. And authorities are continuing to look for multiple other individuals who may have participated in the attack.