Councilmember Inna Vernikov led a march Sunday afternoon to protest an attack on a Jewish man in Bay Ridge. The march assembled on Bay Parkway and 86th Street while a counter-march led by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group took place across the street.
Blake Zavadsky, 21, was attacked outside Foot Locker on 86th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues Dec. 26. Zavadsky said he and a friend were waiting for the store to open when two men called them “dirty Jews” and asked them why they were in the neighborhood.
Zavadsky said the men told him to take off his Israel Defense Forces hoodie. When he refused, one of the men punched him twice and threw iced coffee on his sweatshirt. The other man told Zavadsky’s friend to not get involved or he would get hit too.
“This is exactly what we experienced back in the Soviet Union, the very same place we escaped,” Vernikov said. “‘Just take off your Jewish scarf and we’ll let you work at the factory.’ ‘Just change your last name and we’ll get you into that university.’”
Vernikov, who represents the 48th Council District, encouraged marchers to wear Israel Defense Forces hoodies to show support for Zavadsky.
Rabbi Dovid Feldman of Neturei Karta International, a spokesman for the counter-protest, said his group was outraged by the march and by the usage of the IDF sweatshirt.
“Instead of criticizing this act of provocation against a Palestinian neighborhood, which is deeply pained by the endless oppression of their family members by the Israel Defense Forces, they plan to escalate this provocation and include the wider Jewish community,” Feldman said on Facebook. “This demonstration will in no way reduce anti-Semitism; it will worsen it.”
Feldman also said that Palestinians who find the IDF logo offensive are not being anti-Semitic.
“People who denounce this incident and parade the IDF logo would do well to look themselves in the mirror and consider the violence committed by the Israelis during over 70 years of occupation of Palestinian land,” he said.
Vernikov said Jewish families fled to the U.S. to find freedom and safety.
“To simply be able to walk down the streets and not be afraid to be a Jew,” she said. “To wear any garments we want and freely practice our religion. We stand here today with one united message. We will not be intimidated. You have a right to express yourself without getting physically assaulted.”