Jewish Defense League extremists charged with hate crime for beating Palestinian-American teacher

Sofia Lotto Persio
Jewish Defense League assault Palestinian-American

Two Jewish extremists were charged with hate crime for an assault on a 55-year old Arab teacher, outside a conference in Washington focusing on fostering relations between the US and Israel.

The extremists were staging a counter-protest to the more than 300 Jewish-American activists of the If Not Now group, who were picketing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on 26 March.

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According to the police report, Palestinian-American Kamal Nayfeh was beaten following a "verbal altercation". Pictures of Nayfeh, who has been working at the Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte teaching networking technology for the past 16 years, show him bleeding from a wound on his right eye.

He had stitches where it left a scar, and his back was still in pain when he spoke to local channel WSOC TV. "The only thing I told them was I am a Palestinian," he recalled. "They didn't know anything about me."

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His daughter told the news channel she believed the attack was a hate crime. "I asked him directly, 'Did you hit my Dad?' and this guy told me with a police officer standing beside me, 'Yes I hit your dad, and I hope he learned a lesson,'" Danya Nayfeh said. "It was such an unusual level of brutality, when you see them swarm around him," she continued "He's 55-years-old, and he's on the ground."

The men who attacked Nayfeh belong to a group known as the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a militant organisation whose stated purpose is "protecting Jews in our dangerous world". The group was labelled in a 2001 FBI report on terrorism as a "violent extremist Jewish organisation".

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The alleged assailants are not named in the police report but a police spokeswoman identified them as Canadian Yosef Steynovitz, 32, who was charged with assault with significant bodily injury after punching Nayfeh, and American Rami Lubranicki, 59, who was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon after kicking Nayfeh on his side and hit him in the eye with a wooden pole.

Video footage of the beating, shot by journalist Alejandro Alvarez and published on social media show how Nayfeh was encircled by a mob and the pole using to beat him was attached to a US flag, which fell off the pole due to the repeated, violent blows. Both were charged with "suspected hate crime" based on "anti-Arab" as additional felonies.

JDL was founded in 1968 and were found to have orchestrated a number of deadly terror attacks in the US over the 1970s and 1980s. JDL chapters were also formed in Canada, the UK and France, but the group's activities in the US had largely subsides, until Donald Trump came to the fore. The leader of the Canadian JDL was quoted saying at an event he thought Trump's victory could revive the Jewish nationalist movement in the United States.

"We are trying to get something off the ground in New York. We have to resurrect it in other states in the US, in LA, Chicago, Florida, Philadelphia, I get emails from all over the US, we have to get this thing going," Meir Weinstein said at the New York event – as quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The Jewish Defense League website, its somber look consisting in a black background and white writing in capital letters, lists as potential sources of threat movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Nation of Islam and La Raza (the US' largest Latino non-profit advocacy organization) and the less clearly defined Hitler loyalists, Soros-funded leftist groups and "politicians and media who enable these".

The leader of Canada's branch of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) has said that Donald Trump's presidential victory could help revive the extremist Jewish nationalist movement in the United States.

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