Dozens protest antisemitism in New York after two Jews attacked

Group led by local politicians rallies in Brooklyn after men assaulted, called ‘dirty Jews’ for wearing IDF sweatshirt; anti-Israel activists hold a counterprotest

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov leads a protest against antisemitism in Brooklyn, New York, January 2, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov leads a protest against antisemitism in Brooklyn, New York, January 2, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — Around 100 protesters gathered in New York City on Sunday to decry antisemitism after two Jewish men were attacked on a city street.

Blake Zavadsky and Ilan Kaganovich, both 21, were assaulted in Brooklyn last week. Zavadsky said he was singled out for wearing an Israel Defense Forces sweatshirt.

The attacker “didn’t like it, told me I had five seconds to take it off and then he called us dirty Jews and punched me in the face twice,” Zavadsky said.

The NYPD is investigating the attack in the Bay Ridge neighborhood as a hate crime and has not made any arrests.

The pair reached out after the incident to New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who organized Sunday’s protest in her district. All three are from Jewish families that left Eastern Europe in recent decades.

“This is exactly what we experienced back in the former Soviet Union, the very same place that we escaped. ‘Just take off your Jewish star and we’ll let you work at that factory, just change your last name and we’ll admit you into that university,’” Vernikov said.

“This is what we ran from, this is why our families brought us to America and this is exactly what we’re seeing happening in this country again,” said Vernikov, a Republican.

“We fled to this country for freedom, for safety, to be able to simply walk the streets and not be afraid to be a Jew, to wear whatever garments we want, to freely practice our religion. We will not be intimidated.”

Zavadsky, whose eye was still bruised and bloodshot from the attack last Sunday, said, “We’re trying to fight antisemitism.”

Ilan Kaganovich, left, and Blake Zavadsky at a protest against antisemitism in New York City, January 2, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“Hatred should not be anywhere. There should be no type of hatred in any type of religion, any culture and we’re not going to stop fighting until this is all over,” he said.

Local Jewish figures including former New York State assemblyman Dov Hikind, former world champion boxer Yuri Forman and New York City Councilman Ari Kagan were also in attendance.

The protesters carried signs that read “End Jew hatred,” and chanted slogans including, “Jewish blood is not cheap” and “An attack on one is an attack on all.”

The crowd included Jewish youth activists, families and other supporters.

Pro-Palestinian activists and members of the minor anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Naturei Karta group held a counterprotest across the street. The two sides were divided by a heavy police presence. Officers physically separated individuals in at least two instances but there was no violence between the sides.

Several cars drove past waving Palestinian flags and the two sides hurled insults across 86th street.

The protest ended with the two sides marching in parallel down the street, with police in between.

Pro-Palestinian and ultra-Orthodox protesters in New York City, January 2, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Jews were the most targeted group for hate crimes in New York City last year. The NYPD’s hate crimes dashboard reported 144 confirmed attacks against Jews between January and October 2021, out of 416 total hate crimes in the city. Attacks on Jews accounted for 35% of all hate crimes, the largest proportion of any group.

The FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics report showed that antisemitic hate crimes were 57% of all religious crimes.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has repeatedly denounced antisemitism and announced funding and other actions to fight antisemitism.

This summer saw tensions spike in New York due to Israel’s war with the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Protests were mostly peaceful but scuffles broke out between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters on several occasions.

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