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May 2, 2023 4:16 pm

‘A Farce’: Joseph Borgen, Victim of Antisemitic Attack, Lukewarm on Assailant’s Punishment


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Attack victim Joseph Borgen addressing a rally in Long Island. Photo: courtesy

Joseph Borgen, a Jewish Long Island resident whom five men assaulted and pepper-sprayed in a May 2021 antisemitic attack that shocked the New York Jewish community, voiced mixed feelings about the legal punishment for one of his attackers, Waseem Awawdeh, who pled guilty late last month to attempted assault as a hate crime and now faces up to 18 months in jail.

Borgen was wearing a kippah while walking in Manhattan during protests and counter-protests by supporters of Israelis and Palestinians when Awawdeh along with four other men ambushed him without being provoked, prosecutors said. Awawdeh continuously struck Borgen with a crutch while allegedly joining the others in shouting antisemitic epithets at him. He will, per a plea bargain negotiated with Manhattan assistant district attorney Jonathon Junig, serve 18 months at Rikers Island, a spokesperson from the Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a statement shared with The Algemeiner.

“It’s great that he’s is going to jail for a year, at the same time, two weeks ago, he was taunting me in court,” Borgen told The Algemeiner during an interview on Tuesday. “His apology, his remorse, everything…it’s all kind of a farce. The last court day before he accepted the deal, on the way out [of the courtroom], he made sure to stare me down and smirk at me.”

Another of Borgen’s assailants, Faisal Elezzi also pled guilty to attempted assault as a hate crime and will be sentenced to 3 years of probation. In accordance with their plea agreements, Awawdeh and Elezzi apologized for their actions in court. Three other men involved in the attack — Mohammed Othman, Mohammed Said Othman, and Mahmoud Musa — will appear in court on May 11.

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Borgen, whom the attackers left concussed, bruised, black-eyed, and with a sprained wrist told The Algemeiner that chemicals in the pepper spray discharged into his face set off a sensation of pain that in the moment exceeded any caused by the repeated blows to his body. The injuries he sustained that day, both physical and psychological, continue to diminish his quality of life, Borgen added, explaining that he believes Awawdeh deserves a longer jail sentence based on his suffering, as well as Awawdeh’s alleged criminal history and conduct — including a road rage incident and apparent celebration of the assault — after being granted bail.

“Antisemitic hate has no place in Manhattan, and these defendants have now pled guilty to hate crime charges and apologized for their actions following a thorough investigation by the office,” the Manhattan district attorney’s office said in its statement on the pleas. “We will continue to seek accountability for the remaining defendants, who are all facing significant state prison time if convicted.”

The resolution of Awawdeh’s and Elezzi’s cases came just days after Joey Borgen’s father, Barry Borgen, accused the Manhattan district attorney’s office of negotiating with Awawdeh a deal that minimized the severity of his crimes. Testifying before the New York City Council’s judiciary committee, the elder Borgen also charged that Manhattan DA Alvin Brag had delayed progressing the matter through the courts.

On Thursday, Peter Frankel, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said during an interview with The Algemeiner that his client did not lead the attack on Borgen and accused the media of making him the symbol of rising antisemitism in New York.

“That awful moment in time shouldn’t define him,” Frankel said. “I understand the public interest in seeing him punished for his behavior, I’m not suggesting he shouldn’t, nor should he be viewed as the poster-child for antisemitism, because that’s not who he is.”

New York and New Jersey combined for nearly 1,000 antisemitic incidents in 2022, seeing the first and third most in all 50 states, according to an annual audit by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). New York led the nation with 580 incidents, a 34 percent change from 2019, when there were 430. Other data complied by Americans Against Antisemitism, a US based group founded in 2019, shows that Hasidic and Orthodox Jews in New York City are overwhelmingly represented in the area’s hate crime statistics, being targeted in 94 percent of all reported.

The violence has prompted eight major nonprofits from New York and New Jersey to create a supra-regional group for sharing and receiving information about threats to Jewish communities in the area.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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