Palestinian-American student alleges anti-Muslim assault at Brooklyn arena

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A Palestinian-American student alleged that she was assaulted by a group of Jewish fans at a Brooklyn arena during an exhibition basketball game between the host Nets and Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Nerdeen Kiswani, 20, said that she was punched in the stomach and had a Palestinian flag taken from her hands during the Oct. 7 game at the Barclays Center by a group that included Leonard Petlakh, the executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA, who was punched outside the arena after the game. Kiswani, who wears a hijab, is a student at Hunter College in Manhattan, where Petlakh also teaches.

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A video taken of the incident shows a flag being taken from Kiswani but does not indicate that she was struck. Shawn Schraeder, who is accused of assaulting Petlakh and is awaiting arraignment, is seen in the video.

Kiswani’s attorney, Lamis Deek, said the punch occurred but cannot be seen on the video. Deek also is representing Schraeder in his case.

At a news conference Tuesday, Kiswani said that she was assaulted because she was “the only visibly Muslim women in the arena.” She is the founder and editor of the I Stand with Palestine web magazine and president of Hunter College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

A coalition of organizations calling itself NYC Solidarity with Palestine said in a statement, “It appears Mr. Petlakh may have concocted his story about being the victim of a hate crime to distract from his own role in the commission of an actual hate crime, namely the assault of Ms. Kiswani, which occurred prior to the incident that Mr. Petlakh speciously alleges to be anti-Semitic.”

Police said Monday that Schraeder will not be charged with a hate crime because they no longer think bias was involved.

Kiswani said that when she reported the attack to Barclays Center security staff, the alleged assailants were stopped only briefly before being allowed to proceed; they were later escorted from the arena. NYPD officers also did not act, Kiswani said, and threatened to arrest her friends who alerted them to the incident during the game featuring Maccabi Tel Aviv and the NBA team.