New York DA Offers Plea Bargain to Alleged Antisemitic Attacker

The man who said he ‘would do it again’ will go to jail for just six months if he pleads guilty under the deal.

AP/Mary Altaffer
The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. AP/Mary Altaffer

The Manhattan district attorney’s office is taking heat for offering a plea deal for an alleged assailant in a brutal 2021 beating of a Jewish man.

The office confirmed to the Sun that it has offered a plea deal to Waseem Awawdeh that would land him in jail for just six months for his alleged role in the assault of Joseph Borgen. The deal would give Mr. Awawdeh a six-month prison stay in exchange for a guilty plea on charges of second-degree attempted assault with hate motives.

The 24-year-old Mr. Awawdeh is one of four alleged attackers in the May 2021 assault, in which a group of Arab-Americans attacked a yarmulke-clad 29-year-old just north of Times Square at New York City.

During an outbreak of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip, supporters of both the Israeli and Palestinian Arab causes took to the streets in solidarity. Multiple New Yorkers were injured by violence perpetrated by sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, including Mr. Borgen.

Mr. Borgen was on his way to a pro-Israel rally when he was accosted in what has been described as a “gang assault.” The group descended upon Mr. Borgen, who was subsequently maced and pepper sprayed, kicked, and referred to as a “dirty Jew.”

“I was surrounded by a whole crowd of people who proceeded to physically attack me, beat me, kick me, punch me, hit me with crutches, hit me with flag poles,” Mr. Borgen told the Daily Mail in 2021, shortly after the attack.

The incident was caught on camera by a pedestrian who promptly uploaded the footage to social media.

A man can be seen in the footage of the assault slamming a crutch down on Mr. Borgen and then hobbling off. Mr. Awawdeh was on crutches and wearing the same T-shirt when he was arrested hours later. He was also carrying crutches in a since-deleted image of a pro-Palestinian rally posted by supermodel Bella Hadid several days prior.

Four suspected attackers were ultimately arrested. Two of the men will go to trial, but two — including Mr. Awawdeh — have been offered plea deals.

Mr. Awawdeh is being charged with second-degree attempted assault as a hate crime. The deal could reduce his punishment for the crime from a potential of seven years in prison to six months in jail, with five years of parole.

The charges constitute a violent class D felony, which usually results in a three- to seven-year sentence in New York if a perpetrator is found guilty at trial. A second-degree assault as a hate crime can land a guilty prepetrator in prison for upward of a decade.

At his arraignment more than a year ago, prosecutors reported that Mr. Awadeh showed no remorse for his actions.

“If I could do it again, I would do it again,” he told his jailers, according to a prosecutor in Manhattan Criminal Court. “I have no problem doing it again.”

Upon making bail, Mr. Awawdeh was celebrated as a “hero” in footage that circulated among his friends on social media.

“This Office does not tolerate antisemitic attacks and will continue prosecuting hate crimes vigorously, using every tool at our disposal to address hate,” a representative of the district attorney’s office said, noting that prosecutors from the DA’s hate crimes unit offered the “appropriate” plea deal “based on the facts, available evidence and varying levels of culpability.” 

Jewish communal leaders, however, are questioning what kind of precedent this deal sets.

The news of the potential plea deal comes in the middle of a spike in antisemitic attacks in New York. According to NYPD data, the number of antisemitic crimes reported more than doubled between November 2021 and November 2022. 

Orthodox Jews make up more than 90 percent of Jewish victims of antisemitic assaults since 2018, according to a new report from Americans Against Antisemitism. 

The Orthodox Union last month held a summit on the topic with New York state leaders, and the Agudath Israel of America has launched an informational campaign about the Orthodox community, KnowUs — on the streets and in the pages of major newspapers — to combat the scourge of attacks on visibly Jewish individuals.

Several Jewish organizations and community leaders have reached out to the district attorney’s office to express concern about the possibility of a plea deal.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center declined to comment directly on what actions his organization has taken, but said the organization was “following this case very closely.”

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has taken heat for what some see as a lenient posture toward violent crime. 

His office recently proposed dropping grand larceny charges against an alleged gang member if he attends five sessions with social workers, according to the New York Post

The Post reports the deal was floated because “the DA’s Office was trying to clear up its calendar while dealing with a heavy caseload.” 

The “short-staffed” DA’s office also is challenged by criminal justice reform at the state level, including cashless bail, and is seeing high rates of turnover among assistant district attorneys, according to the Post.

The DA’s office disputes a staffing shortage and says they have more prosecutors on staff currently than they did this time last year.

Mr. Awawdeh’s case has been handled by three assistant district attorneys since his arraignment more than a year ago. The case is currently being overseen by the deputy chief of the hate crimes unit, Jonathon Junig.

An attorney for Mr. Borgen, Ross Pearlson, declined to comment on the case.

The New York Sun

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