Calls for unity as Islamophobic harassment rocks Ridge

Calls for unity as Islamophobic harassment rocks Ridge
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Jewish and Muslim leaders came together on Tuesday to denounce two weekend harassment incidents targeting Bay Ridge Muslims.

Passengers in a car bearing Israeli flags, sirens, and flashing lights hurled Islamophobic slurs at Muslims walking to the Thayba Islamic Center on Coney Island Avenue for evening prayers on July 18, say witnesses, and a similar incident occurred in the early morning hours of July 21 outside of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, according to police.

The events left Brooklyn’s Muslim community shaken, but united Jews and Arabs for a press event at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge on Tuesday.

“To be honest, I am a little scared,” said Zein Rimawi, who helped found the society more than two decades ago but was not present during Sunday’s dustup. “I’m afraid next time they will come with something else — a machine gun, a grenade.”

During Friday’s incident, the perpetrators also threw eggs at three elderly Muslim men while shouting “This is for your Allah,” according to Manaf Abdul, a spokesman for the Thayba Islamic Center. On Sunday, the drive-by aggressors hurled verbal attacks only, and members of the Islamic Society retaliated by throwing bottles, injuring the driver, according to police.

The flare-ups came as Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip lobbed rockets at one another and Israel launched a ground invasion, marking the latest escalation in back-and-forth violence sparked by the murder of three Israeli teenagers abducted in the West Bank last month. The fighting had killed 566 Palestinians and 27 Israelis by Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Jewish leaders came to the Bay Ridge society in the days following Sunday’s attacks to apologize for the incident, said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.

One Jewish leader called for peace among Muslims and Jews, citing the two faiths’ historical ties.

“It really breaks my heart,” said Jewish community leader Douglas Jablon. “We are relatives — we have the same grandfather, and we should act like it,” he said, referring to the biblical figure Abraham, considered by both Muslims and Jews their common ancestor.

The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating both incidents, said Capt. Raymond Festino, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct.

Sarsour said police told her they have identified three teenaged suspects in the July 22 incident, but no arrests have been made yet.

Festino declined to give any information about the suspects, but Sarsour said she was told that they came from outside of Bay Ridge.

The police plan to post cops outside of the Islamic Society continuously until the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends on July 28.

“We will not tolerate desecration of any type,” said state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge).

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.