A 20-year-old Palestinian-American student at Hunter College claims she was assaulted and had a Palestinian flag ripped from her hands while attending an exhibition basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Tel Aviv Maccabi on October 7th.
Dozens gathered yesterday on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall yesterday in support of Nerdeen Kiswani, calling for the NYPD to investigate her alleged assault as a hate crime.
Numerous speakers at the press conference, including Kiswani's attorney, Lamis Deek, claimed that Leonard Petlakh, executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA and a Hunter College faculty member, was personally responsible for the alleged attack.
Yesterday morning, video was uploaded to YouTube that shows the incident from the perspective of a group of Israeli fans. In the video, Kiswani is seen from behind holding a Palestinian flag. An unidentified man snatches the flag from Kiswani, and she immediately claims to have been punched and assaulted, calling out for help from Barclays staff. But the video posted yesterday does not appear to show any punches thrown:
In a statement responding to questions about the video, a spokesman for NYC Solidarity with Palestine said that it "clearly shows how Leonard Petlakh and company engaged in a premeditated attack on Nerdeen by hitting her and taking her flag. Their release of this video can only be due to arrogance and damage control but it in fact bolsters our claims that they acted intentionally to hurt and take personal property from Nerdeen."
"Mr. Petlakh and his friends had staged the attack," Deek said. "They had crept up behind her, discussed what they would do, punched her in the stomach, and then told people around her that she was crazy, to cover up her crimes." Kiswani also says that when she went "shaking and crying" to ask for help from Barclays security and on-site-NYPD, they were dismissive.
No one was apprehended or held for questioning in connection with the incident. It's unclear if Kiswani received medical attention at the scene.
After Kiswani, her companion, and the others involved in the altercation were escorted from the arena, Petlakh was assaulted, suffering a broken nose. A suspect in that case, 25-year-old Shawn Schrader, was arrested last week in St. Louis, Missouri and has been brought back to New York for arraignment.
In a statement issued yesterday, Petlakh says, "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."
Schrader, a journalist, had been in St. Louis covering events in Ferguson. Last year Schrader was awarded an $82,000 settlement after he sued the city of New York, claiming he was bloodily beaten by the NYPD during his participation in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Schrader appears to be the man in the video accompanying Kiswani during the altercation over the flag. When asked if Kiswani had attended the Oct. 7th game with Schrader, Deek told reporters, "They were at the same game. I will leave it at that."
The assault on Petlakh, which occurred in the midst of a demonstration outside the arena protesting Israeli military action in Palestine, is not being investigated as a hate crime, angering some local politicians. Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay) said, "The attack [on Petlakh] took place amid a barrage of anti-Semitic slurs such as ‘You are child murderers,’ and ‘Free Palestine.' 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."
Deek called Petlakh "shameless" multiple times for claiming the assault he endured was motivated by anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian hatred. "My client was the true victim," she declared yesterday. Deek and others also made allegations of anti-Palestinian, Zionist bias in the local media after the attack on Petlakh was covered by multiple outlets, while the aggression against Kiswani has been scantily reported.