Wednesday, May 27th, 2009
(The attempted bombing of Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center by four Islamic men, arrested May 20, was not the first incident of Islamic terror in Riverdale. In 1989, the Riverdale Press, a local newspaper, was firebombed after it ran an editorial in support of Salman Rushdie, the writer sentenced to death by a fatwa issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni. Two years later, in 2000, on the night before Yom Kippur, young Islamic men threw molotov cocktails, that didn’t ignite, at the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale. Here, with slight editing, is the first of two articles I wrote from that trial. While the case is surely different from the 2009 attempted attack, it is interesting to see how a case that began with people dismissing the attackers as anti-Semitic dimwits “acting alone” and whose weapons didn’t even explode, turned out to have a well-financed and coordinated defense team, with sympathizers and supporters ranging from former attorney general Ramsey Clark to a top leftist lawyer, Lynne Stewart. Stewart herself was convicted of assisting terrorists, notably Sheikh Abdel Rahman, who was found guilty in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and who was connected to the assassination of Meir Kahane. That’s some pretty fast company for a couple of incompetant shul attackers acting “alone.”)
The Fire Next Time
Is Riverdale A Settlement? Synagogue attack puts Israel, Arabs on trial in the Bronx
Jewish Week (Dec. 14, 2002)
It’s a case, defense attorney Stanley Cohen tells the jury in his summation, that began more than 50 years ago with the creation of the State of Israel, when Palestinians were thrown out of their homes producing a “Palestinian diaspora” that produced this young man, Mazen Assi, born in America, raised both here and in Jordan, who was so “fixated” by the televised war in Israel that two years ago, just days after the war began, on the eve of Yom Kippur, he threw Molotov cocktails that shattered a synagogue’s glass in Riverdale.
The Bronx shul didn’t burn, but not for lack of trying.
The defense wants to put Israel on trial. The State of New York has another trial in mind, charging Assi, 23, and Mohammed Alfaqih, 21, with attempted arson and criminal mischief. They are charged with “hate crimes” under a law that went into effect just hours before Alfaqih allegedly drove Assi to the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale with vodka bottles filled with fuel and a wick.
In his confession to police, Assi told the police all about the “the f-king rich Jews” in Riverdale, a neighborhood not that far from the Arab-owned Madaba Deli in south Yonkers.
This trial testifies to the fact that the war against the Jews didn’t move beyond
Israelís borders only with the recent bombing of the Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya. It has been a violent war without borders for some time now, fought on French boulevards and in Berlin alleys and in the most rustic corner of the Bronx. The Anti-Defamation League has files on at least a dozen other crimes in 2002 in which Arabs attacked or intimidated Jews, not in West Bank settlements but in the City of New York
Everyone says Assi and Alfaqih acted alone. In America, we prefer that our madmen act alone, like El Sayid Nosair, the assassin of Rabbi Meir Kahane, back in 1990. The first word was that Nosair acted alone. If anything, blame Kahane, people said it was the chickens coming home to roost. Only Nosair turned out to have roosted with Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, an open confederate of Osama bin Laden.
Rahman, the blind leader of one of Egyptís largest terrorist organizations, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 for plotting, in his Jersey City mosque, to blow up bridges and landmarks in New York.
And who’s that at the defense table for the Riverdale case? Lynne Stewart, who joined the Rahman defense team after Rahman’s other attorney, Ramsey Clark, told her that “if she refused, the Arab world would feel betrayed by their friends on the American left.” That was enough to convince Stewart.
There she is, a heavy-set 62-year-old woman with short gray hair, walking in a slight waddle to the bench to ask for an explanation of the judge’s understanding of “hate crime” and how that applies to this Riverdale case.
Does anyone on this Bronx jury know that Stewart was handcuffed by the FBI back in April and is herself awaiting trial on two counts of assisting terrorists, including helping Rahman smuggle terrorist directives beyond his prison cell?
Maybe these Arabs from Yonkers acted alone but through the notorious Stewart, whom the Justice Department believes is a terrorist consigliore, these Riverdale bombers are just one degree of separation from Rahman and two degrees from Osama.
Assi’s other lawyer, Cohen, has wild salt-and-pepper hair that piles high on his head, resembling Seinfeld’s Kramer, before that hair cascades into a long ponytail. In two-tone shoes, he walks across the courthouse floor and reminds the jury that Assi was “never far from Palestine, never far from his tradition.” He “socializes in the Palestinian Muslim community.”
Oh, he threw the dud Molotov cocktails, all right, says Cohen, and that was wrong, but he was “fixated” for days by the death of Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy famously shot in his father’s arms in September 2000. The photo and video whipped up a frenzy around the world. [JM note: At the time, the conventional wisdom was that al-Dura was killed by bullets fired by Israeli soldiers. The shooting of the boy was later shown to have been a Palestinian hoax, a death staged for the television cameras, if indeed the boy died at all.]
Who wasn’t fixated by al-Dura, asks Cohen? He says even one of the New York City cops on this case thought the al-Dura killing “horrific.”
In case the jury didn’t remember — and Judge Stephen Barrett refused to let the
jury see footage of the shooting — Cohen told the jury that al-Dura’s father “screamed in anguish, trying to shield his son’s limp body against the weapons of the Israeli Defense Forces.”
Now, never mind that even the Jordan Times just last week ran a story that said young Dura was shot in a crossfire between Palestinians and Israelis, meaning the fatal bullet was of indeterminate origin. What matters is that Assi blames Israel.
“It wasn’t Jews who killed that young boy,” said Cohen. “It wasn’t Jews practicing their religion that killed that young boy,” so Assi’s revenge can’t be a hate crime against Jews. “It was the Israeli army that killed that young boy. An Israeli soldier who killed that young boy. The world was fixated on it,” not just Assi.
The day before Assi took a ride to the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale, he
and his entire family attended a Palestinian demonstration in Times Square, spurred by the al-Dura killing. It wasn’t a rally against Jews, said Cohen, it was a demonstration organized by Muslims and Christians and Jews — yes, you can bet Jews were there. It was a demonstration, said Cohen, that asked Israel to “stop killing children. Stop killing Palestinian children.”
And that synagogue in Riverdale, it wasn’t a target for Assi because it was a synagogue, said Cohen. The building was “not just a house of worship … it’s a building where they raise money for Israel. It’s a building where pro-Israeli speakers come to speak.”
It’s also a synagogue less than a mile north along a straightaway from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, home of activist Rabbi Avi Weiss, who once demonstrated outside the Jersey City mosque of Sheik Rahman. Maybe Assi couldn’t tell one shul from the other, or maybe the more liberal synagogue was good enough, just like the left-wing kibbutz was a good enough target for Palestinians last month.
What, Cohen asked the jury, actually was the crime here? All that happened was “a broken window. No one went to the hospital. No one was physically injured. The synagogue wasnít engulfed in flames. But it is a big deal to the system. … The message from the politicians, the message from the brass, was ‘solve this case. It doesn’t matter — solve this case … bring some people in — and then work backwards and prove the evidence against those you bring in.”
Imagine, said Cohen, the police used aerial photography “for a broken window.” The FBI was called in, “maybe the CIA, who knows?”
It’s not about Jews, it’s about Israel. “The prosecutors keep wanting you to think this had something to do with Jews,” Cohen told the jury. “How many times did we hear from witnesses, ‘Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur, the High Holidays, the High Holidays,’ how many times ‘yahrtzeit ceremonies’? How many times, ‘little memorial plaques for the dead’? Was it necessary? We know it’s a synagogue…. plaques for the dead? From 1932? What does that have to do with this case?”
Cohen’s right, the Bronx district attorney wants the jury to think that a bomb thrown at a shul has something to do with Jews. And why do the 1930s keep coming up?
Those plaques for the dead keep following us around.