A Canadian member of the Jewish Defence League has pleaded not guilty to assault charges that include the beating of a Palestinian-American man.
Yosef Steynovitz, a 32-year-old Thornhill, Ont., resident, was arraigned and entered his plea in a Washington, D.C., court on Feb. 13.
Steynovitz faces three assault-related charges stemming from brawls that took place in Washington, D.C., last March during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference.
He faces one count of assaulting a student, Ben Doernberg, with a dangerous weapon – a flagpole – and one count of assaulting an employee of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
A third count, assault with significant bodily injury while armed, which is a felony, relates to the beating of Kamal Nayfeh, a 55-year-old Palestinian-American community college teacher from North Carolina who was reportedly walking to the conference when the attack happened.
Nayfeh was taken to hospital, where he received several stitches around his eye.
The prosecution alleges that Steynovitz was armed with “dangerous and deadly weapons” – a shoe and a pole – when the beating took place.
Notably, the count includes a hate crime enhancement that could lead to an increased penalty if Steynovitz is convicted.
In an indictment handed down in December, a grand jury charged that the incident “demonstrated the prejudice of Yosef Steynovitz based on the actual or perceived race, colour, or national origin of Kamal Nayfeh.”
Rami Lubranicki, an American member of JDL, was also charged along with Steynowitz. He too pleaded not guilty to one charge of assaulting one man and one count of assaulting Nayfeh.
Steynovitz used a Hebrew translator during the hearing, reported the Courthouse News Service (CNS).
Defence attorney Nathan Lewin said Steynovitz lives in Canada and had to spend nearly five hours at the border crossing to attend his hearing, according to CNS.
Because of the travel difficulties his client faces, Lewin requested Judge Steven Berk allow Steynovitz to waive his appearance at certain future hearings in the case, a request the judge granted, CNS added.
Steynovitz remains free pending a hearing to determine how the case is proceeding, known as a felony status conference, set for April 17.