Rabbi Sues Pro-Palestinian Agitators for Assault During Prayer Session

Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
May 7, 2024

A Washington, D.C., rabbi is suing two pro-Palestinian agitators for assaulting him last month during a prayer session outside of the Israeli embassy, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, an Orthodox rabbinic leader at the Yeshivas Elimelech Jewish school, says he was hosting a small prayer group outside the Israeli embassy in late March when two pro-Palestinian protesters began blaring sirens and bullhorns, interrupting the session and ultimately causing damage to Herzfeld’s hearing.

Herzfeld is charging the two protesters—named as Hazami Barmada and Atafeh Rokhvand—with "assault, battery, outrage, and other violations" as a result of their actions. Herzfeld claims he "suffered acute acoustic trauma and other harm" following the incident, which the filing dubs a hate crime. Both Barmada and Rokhvand are identified in the suit as the leaders of ongoing demonstrations outside Israel’s Washington embassy and in front of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s private residence.

The case comes amid a flurry of clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the country, where violence has repeatedly broken out. Herzfeld’s case highlights the aggressive tactics being used by some protesters as they seek to disrupt pro-Israel gatherings and foment unrest.

Herzfeld and his group were praying for the Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas, as well as for the innocent Gaza Strip residents caught in the violence, when "they were surrounded" by the alleged "pro-Hamas protesters" who were sporting "earplugs or sound-canceling headphones—and who were already encamped in front of the embassy," according to the suit.

The sound equipment deployed by the pro-Palestinian demonstrators was "intended to prevent any speech or other support for Israel," the suit charges. When the group continued its prayer session, the protesters allegedly "increased the volume of the siren-like sound being generated by the bullhorns, sirens and loudspeakers to levels that are far in excess of those allowed by District of Columbia law."

Security staff from the Israeli embassy ultimately had to bring Herzfeld and his group into the building to prevent the situation from spiraling further out of control.

"The effort to drown out Rabbi Herzfeld’s prayers persisted for several minutes, without abatement," the suit states. "As Rabbi Herzfeld and his group tried to pray, the sound level increased as Rabbi Herzfeld tried to make himself heard over the din."

The rabbi is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and a court injunction to stop the two protest leaders "from harassing, obstructing, or interfering with Rabbi Herzfeld’s activities, including his leading of prayer, protests, or other lawful activities."