Temple attack ruled hate crime


By Kate Pastor

The attempted firebombing of Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale in 2000 falls under the Hate Crimes Act, the New York Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Mazin Assi admitted to participating in the attempted arson involving vodka bottles fashioned into Molotov cocktails that shattered the front door glass of the Riverdale synagogue. But his lawyer, Jan Hoth, argued that the Hate Crimes Act did not apply to property, only people, and Mr. Assi’s hate crime convictions should be thrown out as a result.

Upon arrest, Mr. Assi said he had participated in the attack because he was angry over a Palestinian child shot by the Israeli Army, according to the decision.

“Rich Jews in Riverdale send money over there and they buy guns, and they are killing people,” the decision quoted him as saying. His act was intended to “make a statement” that would “stop the violence in the Middle East,” it said.

Mr. Assi, then 21, and two friends, were the first to be tried under the hate crimes statute, which went into effect just hours before police saw the them loitering in front of the synagogue at around 3 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2000.

His original appeal was based in part on the premise that the law had not yet gone into effect because Oct. 8, the law’s effective date — and the day of the attack — was a Sunday and the next day was a holiday. The law was effective only from Tuesday on, he argued.

He also argued that his action could not be considered a hate crime because it had been directed at the synagogue building. That contention, too, was thrown out by the State Supreme Court Appellate Division in 2009.

The latest unanimous ruling that the act is considered a hate crime upholds that court’s decision.

“The evidence in this case proved that the defendant committed an attempted arson of the synagogue because of his anger toward a particular religious group,” Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote.

Mr. Assi, who was sentenced to five to 15 years, is a former Riverdale resident. His family lived at West 262nd Street and Broadway until moving just a few blocks north to Yonkers. He attended PS 81 and graduated from Lincoln High School in Yonkers.

“A crime against a synagogue or a church or a mosque is a crime against all of the people associated with that institution,” CSAIR Rabbi Barry Dov Katz told The Press in 2009. “It is an affront to our common humanity.”