When the judge announced the bail for the man he says punched him outside a Foot Locker store in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Blake Zavadsky said he had an urge to scream.
“The DA asked for $35,000, and the judge set it at $1,000,” he told JNS. “I didn’t yell because I know that’s not allowed in court. I think they fine you, so I wasn’t going to take the chance. I was upset. It shows he can hit a Jew and get released.”
Suleiman Othman, 27, of Staten Island was caught by NYPD officers on Tuesday morning and was charged with assault as a hate crime for the alleged attack on the morning of Dec. 26.
Zavadsky said his attacker had seven prior arrests.
“When he came out, we made eye contact,” he said of the court appearance, adding that neither man said anything to the other.
Zavadsky and his friend Ilan Kaganovic, both 21, were standing outside the store on Dec. 27 when two men started yelling at them and calling them “dirty Jews.”
According to police, Othman then struck Zavadsky in the face at least twice; Zavadsky was wearing a sweatshirt with the emblem of the Israel Defense Forces on it at the time.
He said he didn’t punch back because the whole thing was a total surprise, despite the threat.
“My first reaction was to grab my face because I was in pain, and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said, adding that he was hit with the most contact under his eye. He was with a friend who did not leave his side. He said he’s feeling better now but still has a little blood in his eye.
“I don’t understand why the bail was so low,” he said. “$1,000 is nothing. It took a while for the NYPD to catch him. How do we know he won’t now go into hiding since he is free?”
He said the experience, while traumatic, hasn’t made him scared.
“You can’t live your life in fear or you’re a prisoner,” he said.
He added that it was a bit ironic that his family left the Soviet Union to come to the United States to avoid anti-Semitism.
“America is a free country, and you can wear whatever you want,” he said. “If he was free to wear a ‘Free Palestine’ sweatshirt, nobody would say anything to him. He can wear what he wants; I can wear what I want.”
Zavadsky said he was treated on-site for lacerations and bruises, and did not go to the hospital, due to the possibility of catching COVID-19.
As for what he would say to Othman, who he said is maintaining his innocence, he replied: “I’d ask him why he’s so against me. We all live in New York. I’d hope we all want to live in peace.”
‘I can’t tell you I was shocked’
“If you can commit a hate crime, and you go right back into the streets, what are you telling the public. I guess when you beat up a Jew, it’s not a big deal.” — Former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind
Zavadsky, who is a student at the College of Staten Island, N.Y., said that he welcomed the support he has had from his family, friends and local leaders, including New York City Council member Inna Vernikov of Brooklyn’s District 48 and former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who accompanied him to court on Tuesday.
Vernikov held a rally on Jan. 3 in support of Zavadsky and to raise awareness of the growing threat of anti-Semitism in New York City.
In a phone interview with JNS, Hikind said he was alarmed at the actions of Judge Christopher Robles.
“I can’t tell you I was shocked,” said Hikind. “Sitting in the courtroom for at least an hour prior to this case unfolding, it was a sad joke in terms of every perpetrator who had been arrested numerous times before, their lawyers denied whatever charge and the revolving door of justice was in full bloom.”
“You know, everything I’ve been reading about, I sat in court and said, ‘Oh, my God, it’s real.’ I was hoping with everything going on in terms of the unprecedented incidents of anti-Semitism, that something like this, the judge would understand that you have to be tough and send a message. … We had this horrible incident of anti-Semitism. If our criminal justice system does not treat it in a serious fashion, it becomes a mockery.
“This judge, as far as I am concerned, is contributing to anti-Semitism,” he said. “If you can commit a hate crime, and you go right back into the streets, what are you telling the public. I guess when you beat up a Jew, it’s not a big deal.”