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February 21, 2003 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Fighting Prejudice

U-M student sees his assailants convicted in anti-Semitic attack.

SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN

StaffWrite•

T

wo high school students have been con-
victed in an anti-Semitic attack in Ann
Arbor on a University of Michigan stu-
dent last summer. The ethnic intimida-
tion convictions brought closure for the accosted
student, who pursued the case through the legal sys-
tem to sentencing.
On July 7, 2002, Daniel Aghion, a U-M junior,
was attacked off campus by two high school stu-
dents of Arab-American decent. Such occurrences
are rare in Ann Arbor.
The son of parentswho
fled Egypt to escape reli-
gious persecution, Aghion,
of Boston, said he never
expected to be fighting
what he called his "own per-
sonal battle against anti-
Semitism."

The Incident

The confrontation took
place as Aghion walked
along a road off the U-M
campus, talking on his cell
phone to his mother in
Boston.
"Out of a speeding car
came a yell," he recalled.
"All I heard was
Jew.'
As a religious person and an
observant Jew, I wear a yar-
mulke on my head."
Trying to ignore his
assailants, Aghion contin-
ued with his phone conver-
sation. But the trio came
back around in the car to
follow him.
Not wanting his mother
to know of the incident, he
Daniel Aghion
ended his call.
"[The assailants] just con-
tinued yelling out curses and asking me if I wanted
to fight," he said. 'As I continued walking, a 20-
ounce soda bottle came flying out of the racing car
and hit me square in the lower back. As they drove
by, they also yelled out [obscenities]."
Next "the driver and passenger-seat occupant got
out with open palms ready to come after me,"
Aghion said. "A third passenger sat in the back seat
watching the entire thing."
Aghion remembers wondering if they were
armed, if they were planning to harm him. "This is
the first and hopefully the only time I have ever

2/21

2003

12

feared for my life," he said.
With cars driving past, but not stopping, Aghion
realized he still had his cell phone in his hand and
quickly dialed the police. He glanced at the car's
license plate number and began to recite it aloud as
he tried to flee, at which point the assailants
returned to their car and drove off.

The Trials

After meeting with police officers, who later identi-
fied the attackers through the license plate number,
Aghion decided to press charges. "I didn't want to
be afraid to show my Jewish identity," he said.
Michael Brooks, exec-
utive director of U-M
Hillel, said he could not
recall a similar incident
s_ in his 23 years in his
position. Betsy Kellman,
regional director of the
Anti-Defamation
League-Michigan
Region, said, "In the last
year since I've been with
the ADL, this was the
only assault case that
was reported to us from
the Ann Arbor area."
Since the attack did
not take place on cam-
pus and the attackers
were not U-M students,
the university was not
involved in the prosecu-
tion. "Had students
been involved [as
assailants] it would have
led to an immediate dis-
ciplinary proceeding by
the university, quite like-
ly leading to their expul-
sion," Brooks said. "It is
very reassuring, and not
at all surprising, that the
city of Ann Arbor also
has no tolerance for this
kind of outrageous behavior."
The two teenagers who exited the car to pursue
Aghion were convicted of ethnic intimidation. The
individual who remained in the car was not charged.
Aghion attended the hearing and sentencing of
the 16-year-old defendant; the Jewish News was not
able to confirm his identity. Aghion also testified at
this defendant's trial at the Washtenaw County Trial
Court Family Division in Ann Arbor.
Aghion also attended the sentencing and pre-trial
hearings of Glaassan Issa, 18, of Ann Arbor, who
was chaited as an adult and pleaded "no contest" to

the felony charge, avoiding a trial.
Throughout this time, Aghion met with David
Nacht, an Ann Arbor attorney and ADL board
member. Nacht, referred to Aghion by Kellman,
acted as Aghion's adviser and accompanied him to
court at no charge.
"This is an ethnic intimidation case because he
was attacked because he was wearing a yarmulke,"
Nacht said. "This kind of case is important to be
charged and prosecuted because of a pattern of act-
ing out prejudicial feelings. We are adopting a new
attitude as a society. When you pick on someone
based on religion or race, we will prosecute. This
attitude will affect [victims of intimidation in] the
Arab community, the gay community, the African-
American community."
After pleading not guilty, the juvenile was tried
and convicted. He was sentenced to community
service work, meetings with a probation officer,
attending anger management classes and a $100
fine. Nacht spoke at the Jan. 6 sentencing of the
juvenile and suggested that he be required to write a
paper on the Holocaust to be given to Aghion. The
judge added it to the sentence. Aghion has not yet
received the paper.
On Feb. 19, Issa was sentenced in Washtenaw
County Trial Court. The sentence included two
years' probation, attending anger management class-
es, writing a letter of apology to Aghion and 100
hours community service hours to be served in a
Jewish organization. During the sentencing, Issa
apologized to Aghion.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys could not be
reached for comment.

The Lessons

"Danny felt strongly about this issue and knows that
hate can- escalate if not taken seriously," Kellman
said.
The two assailants were high school students, so
Kellman spoke to the significance of youth educa-
tion.
"The ADL spends a lot of time and energy work-
ing with high school students to make sure they
understand the cycle of hate and how it can grow
out of control if left unchecked," she said.
"Diversity is one of our nation's greatest strengths.
I think the boys, charged and punished, learned a
valuable lesson about the consequences of their
actions. I hope that they also learned that in order to
live in this diverse community — and nation — we
need to learn more about each other and accept the
differences between races, religions and ethnicities."
Aghion hopes his attackers have learned from this
experience. "Justice was served because I actually
think next time they will think twice about doing
something like this," he said, stressing that Issa was
charged as an adult and now has a criminal record.
Standing by his decision to go the distance in the
case, he said, "To know something happens and not
to do anything about it is almost to say that you
agree with it. If silence is agreement; then the entire
community, not just Jewish community, should be
yelling their throats off. We must work earnestly and
diligently to apprehend, prosecute and hopefully
punish the perpetrators [of anti-Semitism]." El

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