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Time to Fight Back: A New Avenue of Recourse for Victims of Antisemitism

The Algemeiner

JANUARY 26, 2022

From spitting on children in Brooklyn to taking hostages in Texas synagogues, antisemitic perpetrators are finding a myriad of ways to victimize their American Jewish targets with rising frequency. And yet, the criminal justice system has grossly failed in its efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for these actions.

The ADL reports that the United States faces its highest level of antisemitic incidents since the organization’s tracking system began in 1979. In New York alone, antisemitic hate crimes increased by nearly 50% between 2020 and 2021.

Thanks in part to New York state mandates enacted by former Governor Andrew Cuomo, perpetrators charged with misdemeanors or “non-violent” felonies cannot currently be held on pre-trial bail. At best, they are arrested and released, and issued a desk appearance; at worst, they aren’t held accountable at all. As a result, there are few criminal penalties in place to deter aggressors from committing hate crimes. Similar dynamics are at play in cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

If the criminal justice system in our major cities is failing to deter those who seek to attack Jews, we must take it upon ourselves to create that deterrence. The rising attacks of brazen violence and overt prejudice toward Jews must end here.

In a forceful effort to fight back, together with New York State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, StandWithUs formed a partnership that is ushering in a new wave of defense, designed specifically to provide targets of antisemitism with meaningful, legal recourse through the civil system.

In short, civil courts handle disputes between individuals; a successful civil outcome is when a court or jury awards compensation to the victim. Criminal courts handle the legal punishment of criminal offenses, tried by a prosecutor against an alleged perpetrator, with sentencing as the outcome. When a Jew is a victim of intimidation, verbal threats, the destruction or defacing of property, a violent attack, or any other intentional infliction of physical or emotional distress, they are entitled to justice and accountability. If that cannot always be achieved in the criminal justice system (though it should be), we must achieve that justice and accountability civilly.

Attorneys participating in our initiative will help bring about justice for victims free of charge, through the civil courts. For defendants who are pursued in that manner, punishment will likely begin in the form of legal fees. Should an accused individual forgo representation and opt instead to ignore a civil lawsuit, we will fight to ensure they face a default judgment. Upon the successful resolution of a civil lawsuit, attorneys will have the ability, if necessary, to garnish the wages of the defendant(s) or put a lien on their bank accounts for as long as legally permitted. The goal is to punish aggressors monetarily, and in doing so, deter future incidences of crime.

With vandalism, destruction, harassment, and assault on Jews at near-historic levels in the United States, it is time we send a clear message to those targeting the Jewish community: We’re ready to fight back. For too long, violent antisemites have been emboldened by the notion that an inadequate criminal justice system is all that stands in their way. It is now our job to remind them that other avenues of justice do exist, and we will do whatever it takes to guarantee legal penalties — civil or otherwise.

The time for change is now, and we’re prepared to battle.

Brad Gerstman is a partner at Gerstman Schwartz LLP, a New York-area law firm. He can be reached at

Yael Lerman is the founding director of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, providing legal resources to anyone confronting antisemitic and anti-Israel activity. She can be reached at

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