Pro-Palestinian activist gets 18 months in prison for attacks on Jews in New York

Saadah Masoud sent to federal facility for 3 antisemitic assaults in 2021 and 2022; ‘Hate-fueled violence will not be tolerated in our community,’ prosecutor says

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

Saadah Masoud, left, a pro-Palestinian activist, shortly before beating a Jewish man on a street in New York City on April 20, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Saadah Masoud, left, a pro-Palestinian activist, shortly before beating a Jewish man on a street in New York City on April 20, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — A federal judge in New York City on Friday sentenced a pro-Palestinian activist to 18 months in prison for a series of attacks on Jews in 2021 and 2022.

Saadah Masoud, 29, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit hate crimes in the Southern District Court of New York in November as part of a plea agreement.

Masoud, from the borough of Staten Island, attacked three Jews in separate incidents that were motivated by antisemitism, prosecutors said.

The lawyer for Matt Greenman, one of the victims, said the prison sentence was an important step for the prosecution of hate crimes in New York. Jews and their allies have long said local prosecutors are too lenient when it comes to antisemitic crime. Federal convictions for hate crimes are relatively rare.

“It’s meaningful considering all the hate crimes we’ve seen. We see these defendants, they get a slap on the wrist, they get hoisted on their friends’ shoulders and it’s a celebration,” said Gerard Filitti, Greenman’s lawyer. “Finally we have a sentence. Eighteen months is a meaningful sentence in federal prison, so this is what we’ve been waiting for and this is hopefully the beginning of a change.”

Filitti said he hoped for further action in the case against Masoud’s co-conspirators.

“This shines a light on what a lot of people in the Jewish community and our allies have been saying for years, that a lot of these attacks are not isolated incidents, they’re not instances where it’s a crime in passing,” Filitti said. “A lot of these attacks are not just motivated by hate, but they are conspired to, there is a concerted effort to do harm to the Jewish community.”

Jews are targeted in hate crimes more than any other group in New York City.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 18 months to two years, saying the offenses were “extremely serious.”

“Hate-motivated violence such as the defendant’s conduct sends a message to an entire group of people that its members are not safe. It targets communities, dehumanizing them,” prosecutors said, arguing that deterrence was a “significant consideration” at a time of rising antisemitism.

Illustrative: New York police secure a Jewish community event in New York City, May 19, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The defense had requested a sentence of six months, and argued that the attacks were not antisemitic but personally and politically motivated, and should not be tied to antisemitic trends.

“While we hoped for a lower sentence, the judge did sentence him at the very bottom of the guidelines and showed great understanding and compassion,” said one of Masoud’s lawyers, Ronald Kuby. “She resisted the government’s invitation to blame a traumatized Palestinian kid for the rise of neo-Nazi and right-wing antisemitism in America and for that she should be applauded.”

US Attorney Damian Williams, one of the prosecutors, said Masoud “repeatedly attacked New Yorkers based on their religion and national origin.”

“The prosecution of this case and the sentence imposed today make clear that hate-fueled violence will not be tolerated in our community and that this office will be unrelenting in our efforts to hold accountable those who perpetrate senseless crimes of hate,” Williams said.

In May of 2021, around the time of a conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group, Masoud and associates planned to attack Jews at a pro-Israel rally in New York City.

Court documents showed the group discussed bringing weapons including Molotov cocktails to the rally.

“VIOLENT!! ONLY VIOLENCE… IN PALESTINE THEY WISHHH THEY COULD SMACK A ZIONIST AND NOT GET TORTURED TO DEATH. WE CAN THO!!” Masoud said in the group chat. He also gloated about attacks, saying, “I beat the shit out of three Zionists yesterday and didn’t even see a jail cell.”

Pro-Palestinian activists hold a ‘Globalize the Intifada’ protest against Israel and in support of Palestinian security prisoners in New York City, on September 17, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

The perpetrators also told each other to cover their faces to evade prosecution and to use the term “Zionists” instead of Jews, apparently to avoid allegations of antisemitism.

“Remember, don’t chant out Jews, it’s the Zionists,” one of them said.

One of the people in the chat followed up by saying, “Fuck all Jews.”

The day after Masoud and his associates held the group chat, they went to a pro-Israel protest and picked out a man wearing a Star of David while he was walking with his wife.

“Are you a fucking Jew?” Masoud asked the man, then punched him in the face. Afterward, he texted his associates, “no videos of me anywhere lmaooo. I’m Gucci. No face no case.”

Less than two weeks later, Masoud and a co-conspirator drove to the Brooklyn home of Heshy Tischler, a contentious, conservative, well-known figure in the Orthodox community in Borough Park. Tischler later told prosecutors that Masoud had shouted antisemitic insults at him at a previous Black Lives Matter rally.

Masoud approached Tischler while he was waiting in a car for his wife and granddaughter and threatened him, saying, “We know where you live, we’ll get you.” Tischler got out of the car and attempted to film Masoud, who slapped the phone out of Tischler’s hand. Masoud’s associate then punched Tischler in the face. Several days later Masoud referred to Tischler in a text message as “some Jew politician.”

In the third attack, Masoud pursued and beat a Jewish man, Matt Greenman, on the sidelines of a pro-Palestinian protest in Manhattan in April 2022. The victim had gone to the event as a counter-protester with an Israeli flag. Masoud knocked him to the sidewalk, repeatedly punched him in the face, causing a concussion, then burned his Israeli flag at the head of the protest.

Matt Greenman after he was attacked by pro-Palestinian protesters on April 20, 2022. (Courtesy/Matt Greenman)

The victim and an elderly woman at the scene who was knocked down required hospital treatment. The prelude to the attack and part of the assault were caught on camera.

The following day, Masoud discussed arranging witnesses to back him up in a text message chat, telling a friend and another acquaintance to “get your stories straight.” They planned to say the victim had tried to attack them with crutches.

Masoud later messaged a Jewish Instagram account that posted about the incident, saying, “I feel bad for you zionist people when judgment day comes and we slaughter all of them like sheep.”

Masoud was arrested in June 2022. When he arrived at the courthouse, he asked a detective, “All this for one Jew?” Shortly after, an investigator overheard him saying he didn’t want any “Greenbergs” for lawyers, and when he received counsel, he demanded the attorney recite and spell his last name, apparently to check if he was Jewish.

While he was being monitored before the trial, he refused to be supervised by an officer with the Jewish surname “Rothman.” Masoud repeatedly violated the terms of his home confinement during the legal process and was remanded to the custody of the US Marshal’s Service last month after a bail violation hearing.

Masoud has ties to Within Our Lifetime Palestine, an activist group that regularly calls for an intifada and the destruction of Israel at rallies in New York, and urged the targeting of Jewish groups in the city, including by handing out maps of Jewish organization locations at a protest.

Most suspected hate incidents in New York do not result in a conviction. The feds took up the Masoud case amid complaints from the Jewish community about the lack of penalties against anti-Jewish attackers, and criticism of cashless bail laws that often let assailants free shortly after their arrest.

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