It’s he-said, she-said, and everybody is saying “hate crime.”
The scuffle that Kings Bay Y director Leonard Petlakh says left him with a broken nose took place at an Oct. 7 exhibition basketball game between the Nets and Maccabi Tel Aviv, an Israeli team.
In the police telling, the confrontation kicked off inside the arena toward the game’s end, when Palestinian-rights protesters unfurled political banners in the stands and someone sitting behind one of them snatched a Palestinian flag away.
The pro-Palestinian activist version is that Nerdeen Kiswani, a Muslim Hunter College student, was holding the folded flag and that Petlakh and his friends snuck up behind her, someone punched her in the stomach, and they wrenched the flag out of her hands. A video of the incident released on Tuesday shows Kiswani standing next to someone who resembles Petlakh’s suspected assailant, Shawn Schraeder, and whose home-made Nets T-shirt matches a police description. The video shows a man snatch the flag and Kiswani say, “He punched me in the stomach.” But no punch is apparent in the video.
Kiswani pointed out that she was wearing a hijab at the time and said that the treatment constitutes a hate crime.
“I was in shock,” she said. “Being the only visibly Muslim woman in the arena with a scarf, apparently warranted assault, harassment, and snatching the flag of my origin from my hand.”
In the video, someone near the videographer calls for an usher, and Kiswani calls for one more loudly.
The footage then shows an usher questioning the man who took the flag.
“It’s theirs?” he asks. “Why you took it, sir?”
“Because I didn’t wanna have a political statement, I told you before,” the man seems to say.
The clip, shot at chest level amid a crowd, ends with the usher saying, “Come with me,” though it is unclear whom he is addressing.
Petlakh touted the video as proof that he was not involved in the flag-snatching and that the supposed assault on Kiswani didn’t happen.
“Needless to say that I was nowhere the flag or near the woman at the time of that flag being snatched/given to the ushers, but don’t let any facts stand on the way,” he wrote in a statement, suggesting that the surge of publicity from the Palestinian side is meant to deflect attention from Schraeder’s Oct. 14 arrest.
Ultimately, security kicked both groups out, and the face-off continued outside, according to police.
That is when cops say Schraeder hauled off and socked Petlakh, breaking his nose and giving him a cut that required eight stitches to close, according to the Y. Officers nabbed Schraeder, an Occupy Wall Street media activist, in Saint Louis, Missouri, where a Twitter account registered in what appears to be his alias and using his image says he was protesting the police killing of black teens. Officers now say the assault was not motivated by anti-Semitism, as Petlakh and Sheepshead Bay pols charged.
Kiswani’s lawyer, who is also representing Schraeder, said that Petlakh and his allies have been trumpeting claims of bias to distract from their role in starting the altercation.
“My client Nerdeen Kiswani, was the true victim, of not only Mr. Petlakh, but also his gang of thugs,” Lamis Deek said. “Mr. Petlakh felt that he could and would get away with claiming he was the victim when he was the aggressor. What he and his friends displayed that night was anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian hatred against Ms. Kiswani.”
Both Deek and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) faulted Barclays Center management for not quelling the dispute, but that is about all they agree on.
The Barclays Center’s spokesman, Barry Baum declined to provide its security protocol for handling fights, but said that arena management anticipated “a strong reaction” and beefed up security accordingly. There was nothing wrong with security’s handling of Kiswani’s complaint, he added.
“By no means did security ignore her call for help,” Baum said. “In fact, security intervened immediately by separating the two groups. And the flag was returned to her.”
Cymbrowitz is demanding that District Attorney Ken Thompson bring hate-crime charges against Schraeder, claiming that political slogans by the pro-Palestinian activists amount to hate speech.
“The attack [on Petlakh] took place amid a barrage of anti-Semitic slurs such as ‘You are child murderers,’ and ‘Free Palestine,’ ” Cymrbowitz said in a statement. “As one of our city’s most prominent Jewish leaders, Mr. Petlakh wants the perpetrator who attacked him charged not just for assault but for the anti-Semitic hatred that both precipitated it and accompanied it.”
Amin Husain of the group NYC Solidarity with Palestine said he was at the game and echoed Kiswani’s account. He said that opposing how the nation of Israel treats Palestinians is a far cry from hating Jews, but that the Zionist ideology prevalent in Israel can carry its own form of racism.
“The charge of anti-Semitism is always leveled because we’re critical of the state of Israel and the ethnic cleansing that is happening daily in Palestine,” Husain said. “There is no room for anti-Semitism, but there is also no room for racist Zionism.”
A judge arraigned Schraeder on charges of assault and harassment and released him on Oct. 18 without bail, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Deek declined to comment on whether Schraeder was involved in the altercation or if he was with Kiswani, but said that he plans to plead not guilty. His next court date is set for Jan. 27.
A tweet posted from what appears to be Schrader’s account at 9:24 pm on the night of the spat shows protesters standing in an entrance to the stands holding a banner that reads “Don’t play with apartheid” and calls for boycotting Israeli goods and sanctioning the nation. The account’s last tweet of the night lamented that fans at the game were “more aggressive than security.”
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