NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Tensions in the Middle East may have spilled onto the streets of New York, as police on Tuesday investigated whether passengers in a car flying Palestinian flags attacked a couple because they are Jewish.
As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, traffic had just stopped on East 63rd Street near Second Avenue on the Upper East Side around 8 p.m. Monday when the fight happened.
A doorman who did not want his face shown said he saw it all go down.
“I thought maybe it was like the World Cup, there was so much noise and the flags flying,” said a doorman, who did not want his face shown but saw the incident go down.
Police said it all happened when several cars sporting Palestinian flags got stuck in traffic on 63rd Street, when people inside the cars noticed a man wearing a yarmulke and his wife sitting on the sidewalk nearby.
Words were exchanged, and the group made anti-Semitic comments, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
“The word ‘terrorist’ was getting thrown around, then curse words,” the doorman said. “You know, it was just crazy — the screaming, the yelling.”
The suspects allegedly threw a water bottle at the woman, and a suspect got out of the car punched the man on the side of the head, Jones reported.
The suspects fled in the cars with the Palestinian flags, Jones reported.
“It was like a little bit of a melee — people getting out of their cars and the getting back in the cars,” the doorman said. “It was a little crazy.”
Leaders in the local Jewish community fear the incident is proof tensions are boiling over here because of what’s happening in the Middle East.
“The last thing that we want to do is bring what’s happening in the Middle East to Brooklyn, or to New York, or to America,” said New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn.)
New York City Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-4th) said hateful attacks cannot be tolerated.
“New Yorkers should always feel safe when they’re walking down the street and feel safe from being targeted on the basis of their race, or their religion, or their national origin,” Garodnick told 1010 WINS. “This just cannot stand.”
He is hopeful the police find the suspects quickly.
“I am hopeful and optimistic based on the fact that it is a very closely scrutinized area, there’s lots of video cameras in the neighborhood and we have some very keen investigators,” Garodnick said.
Hikind and Garodnick were not the only one concerned. Muslim leaders in Brooklyn have complained about possible hate crimes there in recent weeks.
Nelly Rosenking lives on the block where the Monday evening melee happened, and called it outrageous.
“Here is a place where everyone is supposed to be able to speak freely about what they want, whoever they want,” Rosenking said. “You pass by the Plaza Hotel, you see a Saudi Arabian flag hanging. I mean, everybody is welcome here. This is neutral ground.”
Investigators returned Tuesday afternoon to the area where the incident happened. CBS 2 has confirmed that as part of their investigation the NYPD has been reviewing photos snapped in the city in recent days of several cars with Palestinian flags on them.
The Jewish couple involved in the incident didn’t need any medical attention afterward. Police Tuesday afternoon were looking for several cars that were involved, including a White Cadillac Escalade that has a Palestinian flag on it.
The NYPD Hate Crimes Unit is investigating the incident.
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