Man Who Punched Jew in IDF Shirt Gets 60 Days in Jail

By Reuvain Borchardt

Suleiman Othman at the Brooklyn Criminal Courthouse, Tuesday. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

BROOKLYN — A man who punched a Jew wearing an IDF sweatshirt in Bay Ridge has pleaded guilty to a hate crime and will be sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Suleiman Othman, 29, of Staten Island, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Brooklyn Criminal Court to attempted assault in the third degree as a hate crime, a Class A misdemeanor, and will receive a sentence that includes a 60-day jail term, then the balance of three years probation.

“Brooklyn’s diversity is our strength and we do not tolerate violence that’s motivated by bias against any religious or national identity,” District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement following the guilty plea. “The hateful and unprovoked assault this defendant admitted to today left one victim hurt, but also shook an entire community. His conviction, jailtime and probation should send a message that this kind of intolerance has serious consequences.”

Zavadsky, sporting an IDF sweatshirt and a black eye, after the assault on Dec. 26, 2021.

On Dec. 26, 2021, Blake Zavadsky and Ilan Kaganovich, both 21-year-old college students, were outside the Foot Locker in Bay Ridge, waiting for the store to open, when Othman and another man, incensed over Zavadsky’s Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt, approached them.

Othman allegedly said, “Why do you support those dirty Jews? What are you doing in our neighborhood? You have five seconds to take off that sweatshirt or I’ll rock you,” according to the criminal complaint and Zavadsky’s account of the story in a Hamodia interview.

Zavadsky said, “We were ignoring them, trying to back off slowly,” when Othman “punched me near my right eye. I grabbed my face, then moved my hand back down, and then he punched me again in the face.” 

Othman’s companion warned Kaganovich that if he tried to defend Zavadsky, he would be hit, too.

Othman then poured his iced coffee on Zavadsky’s sweatshirt.

Zavadsky said he purchased the sweatshirt while on a trip to Israel in 2019 and wears it frequently, and that this is the first time he has ever experienced antisemitism.

Asked by Hamodia whether he had considered not wearing that shirt in the heavily Arab neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Zavadsky replied, “I never even considered it. I have shopped in Bay Ridge many times with that shirt, and never had a problem. And I will continue to wear it,” adding, “Everyone should speak out against antisemitism; no one should be afraid. Jew-hatred must be put to an end.”

Othman continued to demonstrate his opposition to Israel in the courthouse Tuesday. He wore the keffiyeh headscarf associated with Palestinian militancy. He smiled and flashed two fingers for a Hamodia reporter taking a photograph, and when asked by the reporter whether he wanted to say anything, Othman replied, “Justice for Shireen Abu Akleh,” referring to a Palestinian-American journalist killed last year in a crossfire between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists in Jenin, most likely by an Israeli bullet, which Israel says was accidental.

Suleiman Othman (right) with his attorney in Brooklyn Criminal Court, Tuesday. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

Following Othman’s guilty plea, Zavadsky and his supporters at the courthouse told Hamodia on Tuesday they are pleased with the deal. 

“I’m extremely happy that he’ll be serving time — he got what he deserves,” Zavadsky said.

Zavadsky shrugged off Othman’s continued demonstration of anti-Israel beliefs.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; it’s his right,” Zavadsky said. “I wouldn’t go up to him and say he shouldn’t believe that, the same way I wouldn’t want someone going up to me and saying I shouldn’t believe what I believe in. He can believe whatever he wants — as long as he’s not punching me or throwing iced coffee on me.”

Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who attended the court hearing, said, “It is an extremely rare occasion that a perpetrator of an antisemitic, or any, hate crime goes to jail in New York City. This case was particularly important to me not just because I wanted to see justice for the victims, but because it sets an example of what happens when we as a Jewish community stand up for ourselves: consequences.”

Othman will be formally sentenced by Justice Danny Chun on September 20.

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