As antisemitic attacks rise dramatically in the US, few perpetrators are arrested and even fewer are convicted. Experts are speaking up, saying that light prison sentences will not deter future attacks.
A recent report in Daily Caller quoted several experts on antisemitism who decried the trend of lighter sentences for hate crimes.
Marc Stern, chief legal officer for the American Jewish Committee, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that “lighter sentences” in situations “where Jews are victimized” are “problematic”.
“Whatever sentences are handed down need to have a deterrent effect,” Stern said. “If they don’t, then stiffer sentences may be in order.”
One such case was when Joseph Borgen, who was wearing a kippah when he was attacked, was beaten and pepper-sprayed while antisemitic epithets were yelled at him during a pro-Israel rally in Times Square in 2021. He suffered a concussion as a result of the attack. The original charges against the assailant carried a sentence of more than ten years in prison but he was offered a plea deal by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reducing his sentence to six months and five years of probation.
Another example was a man from Long Island who was convicted of assaulting three Jews on separate occasions. The pro-Palestinian activist also plotted to use weapons and firebombs against pro-Israel rallies and pled guilty top to a charge of conspiracy to commit hate crimes. The assailant admitted that the attacks targeted people they believed to be Jewish or Israeli and were politically and personally motivated. The man was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Charles Lehman, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, told the Daily Caller that hate crimes are often difficult cases for the prosecution. He added that Borgen’s case seemed like it wouldn’t be “hard to prove” and that the plea deal was a “substantially” lower sentence.
“The purpose of hate crime enhancements, and hate crime charges in general, is primarily to recognize that there is an additional harm when the defendant is bias-motivated, so being punched while called a slur is worse than just being punched and the sentence should reflect that,” Lehman said. “I agree with the sentiment, I think that minimal charges for hate crimes are ineffective deterrents, the guy is going to be back on the street in six months.”
Lehman suggested that the light sentences result from plea bargaining carried out by prosecutors with limited resources. While the lighter sentences succeed in taking the perpetrators off the streets, they do not solve the problem.
“Hate crime offenders are not specialists, they often commit non-hate crime offenses as well which means that the risk to the public is going to come back rather quickly … [and] a light sentence sends the wrong message about how seriously antisemitic hate crimes are taken in the city,” Lehman said.
“The fact that prosecutors are cutting deals with unrepentant antisemites while judges aren’t imposing anywhere near the maximum sentence indicates how far the justice system must go to take antisemitic crimes seriously,” StopAntisemitism Executive Director Liora Rez said in a statement.
Indeed, the plague of antisemitism is growing. According to statistics from the New York Police Department, there were 45 reported antisemitic hate crimes in the city in December, for an average of one every 16 hours. This represents a 125% increase over the same period last year. Anti-Jewish attacks made up 60% of all hate crimes in the city in November, far more than against any other minority group.
Kenneth Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and former assistant secretary for the Department of Education for Civil Rights, told the DCNF that the problem extends beyond New York and pointed to the FBI’s hate crime report released late last year.
“Ironically, the extent of the problem has been obscured due to the historic failure of the FBI, in its most recent report on hate crimes, to provide complete and accurate data,” Marcus said. “This surely is an issue that cries out for congressional oversight. This signals to the perpetrators that they can engage in this form of bigotry at little risk of serious punishment.”
These statements are consistent with findings of a report concerning antisemitism in New York City published last year by Americans Against Antisemitism, a grassroots, non-partisan organization launched in 2019. The report revealed several key findings:
- Jews not only account for the majority of hate crime victims in NYC (by volume and per capita) but Jews are also attacked on average in more than 70% of police precincts — twice the rate of the next most targeted group.
- Contrary to common perception, in NYC, the vast majority of perpetrators of anti-Jewish hate crimes are members of other minority groups, not white supremacists.
- Since 2018, of 118 potentially trackable individuals arrested for anti-Jewish hate crimes, AAA positively identified 84, of which only 1 has been convicted and sentenced to a significant prison term; 15 accepted plea deals that do not appear to involve any prison time; 23 have had hate crime charges removed or criminal charges dropped altogether; 22 are still “pending”; and 23 remain unknown, having totally disappeared from criminal court records.
- When it comes to anti-Jewish hate crimes in NYC, numerous case studies presented herein demonstrate that there are practically no serious consequences to be had or severe punishments to be faced by very violent and hateful criminals who’ve caused significant physical, emotional, and psychological harm to their victims.
The report documented 194 cases of assault against Jews from April 2018 to August 2022. 154 of the assaults involved physical attacks and 40 were verbal assaults. In less than half the cases, the perpetrator was arrested and in less than half of those cases, those arrested were charged. Only two cases ended in prison sentences for the offenders.
It may also be that current laws are insufficient or not effective at curtailing rising antisemitism. A report in January in Open Access Government concluded that “the nation’s hate crime legislation lacked definition and inclusivity of specific crimes, and some states did not have any legislation protecting victims at all.”
“There were 37 states that protected religious locations,” the report found. “However, most states do not mention mosques and/or synagogues among protected institutions, despite these religious institutions being the most frequent targets of hate crimes. While churches were the most identified religious institution among hate crimes legislation, they were mentioned by name in fewer than half of U.S. states. The only state that protects all places of worship was Delaware.”