Mahmoud Musa Gets 7 Years in Prison for Attack on Joseph Borgen

By Reuvain Borchardt

Mahmoud Musa (in gray skullcap) in Manhattan Criminal Court for sentencing, Tuesday. At left is his attorney, Lance Lazzaro. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

NEW YORK — An Arab man who beat a Jew near a pro-Israel rally in 2021 in an assault that left the victim feeling he was “potentially going to die,” was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to a crime that the judge said “will not be tolerated in any civilized society.”

Mahmoud Musa repeatedly kicked and stomped on the face of Joseph Borgen on May 20, 2021, as Borgen lay on the ground being beaten by a group of Arabs in Times Square during the last war between Israel and Hamas.

Borgen, then 27, had just exited the subway at the Times Square station several blocks from the pro-Israel rally, when he was set upon and beaten by the group of Arab men and one juvenile. The assailants allegedly yelled, “Dirty Jew,” “Filthy Jew,” “Hamas is going to kill you,” and, “Go back to Israel,” as they struck Borgen repeatedly and sprayed him with mace or pepper spray.

“I was holding on for dear life, I was in a fetal position, doing anything possible to make it out alive,” Borgen recalled in his victim impact statement Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court. “I thought I was potentially going to die … and not see my family again.”

“In my opinion, if the cops did not come and save my life, I would have died — that was [Musa’s] goal and the goal of that group.”

At the time of the assault, Borgen was wearing a yarmulke and no Israel paraphernalia, and said he did not exchange any words with his assailants prior to the assault.

In his victim impact statement, Borgen said he had to undergo therapy for physical and mental pain after the attack, and that his right wrist has still not recovered and will require a second surgery.

 “Even the things I enjoy doing on a daily basis,” such as playing ball, holding a dog or doing laundry, “give me pain,” he said.

He is also filing a civil suit against the assailants, all of whom have been sentenced or will soon be sentenced to jail terms.

Borgen in the hospital following the attack. (File)

Musa’s attorney, Lance Lazzaro, had asked Justice Felicia Mennin to sentence his client to the minimum of three-and-a-half years in prison, noting Musa was 23 at the time of the attack, and that he grew up in Brooklyn in an atmosphere of having relatives living in Palestinian territories “like in a prison.” Lazzaro said he was “not minimizing what happened,” but that “you could almost understand” Musa’s actions considering that his father died when he was a child, he “lived in abject poverty growing up,” and “never had the proper schooling in order to make him be able to make the right choices.”

Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Junig had asked for a sentence of six-and-a-half years. When Musa had pleaded guilty in September, the DA’s Office initially recommended a sentence of five years. But they asked for more Tuesday, after Musa, who has been in custody since his plea, allegedly touched a guard in Rikers Island, and because he “has not showed any remorse.”

When Lazzaro argued that even people committing gun crimes don’t get six-and-a-half years for a first felony offense, Mennin retorted, “Have you had a defendant in my courtroom?”

Lazzaro also argued that the stiff recommendations only came because of pressure in the media on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, saying that early conversations with the DA’s Office indicated they were considering probation for at least some of the defendants, but “it hit the press” and then “Bragg had a shining moment and changed the offer.”

 “I’m not asking the court to give him a pass,” Lazzaro said, “what I’m asking the judge to do is to show a little mercy.”

In his own statement in court, Musa said he wished to “apologize to Joseph and the Jewish community.”

“I understand that my behavior was unacceptable, and take full responsibility for my actions and the consequences that followed,” Musa said, asking Mennin to consider that his younger sisters and mother rely on his financial support.

“I can’t afford to miss these years incarcerated out of the household,” he said.

But Mennin sentenced Musa to seven years in prison — more than the DA had recommended — plus five years probation, citing Musa’s premeditated actions, his lying to his probation officer about the nature of the incident, and the subsequent incident with the guard at Rikers.

Video from the scene of the attack shows Musa and co-defendants arriving in a pickup truck and yelling at pro-Israel demonstrators. One person in the pickup truck threw a lit firecracker which “gravely injured a woman,” Mennin said.

Musa’s “participation and selection of a random person of the Jewish faith was planned, calculated and intentional,” Mennin said, adding that her sentence “has nothing to do with your beliefs, your freedom of speech, your identity or your national origin. It is being imposed [because of your] actions …  which will not be tolerated in any civilized society.”

Borgen said he did not believe Musa’s apology was sincere.

“I think he was only sorry that he got caught,” he said.

As Musa, who was handcuffed throughout the proceeding, was led away following sentencing, he turned to his supporters, who filled two rows in back of the courtroom. One supporter stood up and yelled “I love you my brother,” and then more yelling ensued from Musa’s supporters. They were ushered out of the courtroom by some of the dozen-and-a-half police officers patrolling what was expected to be a heated hearing as Israel and Hamas are engaged in yet another war.

Outside the courtroom, the Musa supporters continued to yell, accusing Mennin of being “racist.” One Musa supporter was wearing a keffiyeh, the scarf associated with Palestinian militancy.

Meanwhile, Borgen’s supporters — who far outnumbered Musa’s — (as well as the media) were forced by police to wait inside the courtroom until Musa’s supporters had left the courthouse area.

Borgen told Hamodia he was pleased with the sentence.

“I’m satisfied,” Borgen said. “I think it was a strong, severe sentence for a strong, severe crime, and it sends  a clear message moving forward that hate crimes … won’t be treated with a slap on the wrist.”

Musa is the third of the five defendants to be sentenced in the case.

Faisal Elezzi, who allegedly threw two punches at Borgen, pleaded guilty in April 2023 to third-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, for a promised sentence of three years’ probation with required compliance with anti-bias programming.

But the following month, he was arrested in Staten Island for allegedly owning an illegal smoke shop and being in possession of several pounds of marijuana. Though the Staten Island district attorney dropped those charges on October 4, six days before his sentencing in the Borgen case in Manhattan, the re-arrest was deemed a violation of his plea agreement, and Mennin accepted the DA’s recommendation that Elezzi be sentenced to 60 days in jail, concurrent with the three-year probation period.

Waseem Awawdeh, who hit Borgen three times in the back with a metal crutch as he lay on the ground and was being punched and kick by the other defendants, was initially offered a plea deal of six months in jail. That offer made headlines as it was criticized as too lenient by Borgen, Jewish organizations and figures including former Assemblyman Dov Hikind. The New York Post wrote an article on the offer titled “Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Offers Sweetheart Plea Deal to Suspect in Brutal Anti-Semitic Attack.” And Borgen’s father participated in Republican-led U.S. House hearing on Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s allegedly soft-on-crime policies.

Mennin rejected the deal, and the DA’s Office subsequently came back with a new offer that Mennin accepted: Awawdeh pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, for a sentence of 364 days in prison for the first offense and six months for the second, to be served consecutively for a total of 18 months.

Two defendants remain to be sentenced: Mohammed Othman pleaded guilty in September to one count of second-degree assault as a hate crime, and the DA’s Office has recommended he receive a sentence of five years in state prison followed by five years probation when he is sentenced in December. However, Mennin is not bound by the DA’s recommendation, and could sentence him anywhere within the statutory range of 3 ½ to 15 years. Another defendant, Mohammed Said Othman, pleaded guilty in September to second-degree attempted gang assault, in exchange for a promised sentence of three years in prison and three years post-release supervision; and third-degree assault as a hate crime with a promised sentence of 1-1/3 to four years in prison, to run concurrently. He will also be formally sentenced in December.

Like Musa, Othman and Said Othman have been remanded since their guilty pleas in September.

The case of the sixth defendant, a juvenile, is being handled in Family Court. Family Court spokespersons did not respond to Hamodia’s request for information on the disposition of that case.

Borgen’s father Barry told Hamodia he is “very satisfied” with the sentence, and that he’s pleased Bragg’s office has been prosecuting the case aggressively.

“I’m glad that they finally realized their mistakes,” he said. “They see the atmosphere that’s infesting New York City with the anti-Israeli protests and antisemitism, they have to crack down, and I think it’s just the beginning.”

In a statement to Hamodia following sentencing, Bragg said, “Today Mahmoud Musa was held accountable for his role in repeatedly assaulting a Jewish man and will serve seven years in prison. Mr. Borgen continues to suffer from significant trauma and pain from this incident. No one should have to endure the type of vicious, hate-driven attack he experienced, and I hope he continues to heal and recover.”

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