Man who police say urged 'Zionists' to get off NYC subway train faces criminal charge

NEW YORK (AP) — A man who demanded that “Zionists” identify themselves on a New York City subway train during a protest over the Israel-Hamas war, then suggested that they get out, was charged Wednesday with attempted coercion, a misdemeanor, police said.

A video showing the man leading protesters in chanting, “Raise your hand if you're a Zionist” on a packed subway car on June 10 drew widespread condemnation from public officials and prompted New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to propose banning masks on the subway.

She and others said the chant was antisemitic and intended to frighten Jews.

At least one person who was aboard the train complained to police, authorities said. The man who authorities say led the chants turned himself in and was given a desk appearance ticket requiring him to appear in court at a later date, a police spokesperson said. A phone message left at a number listed for the man was not returned. It was not clear if he had an attorney.

A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the episode remains under investigation and anyone with information should contact authorities.

The incident aboard the train took place as a large group of pro-Palestinian protesters left a rally in Manhattan's Union Square to head to another demonstration outside an exhibit commemorating victims of the Hamas Oct. 7 attack on a music festival i n southern Israel.

Hundreds of protesters descended into the subway station, some banging on drums and chanting, “We will free Palestine!”

The sudden flood of passengers created a temporary traffic jam on the platform. Police delayed some trains. Protesters sprayed graffiti on some of the subway cars.

Inside one of the delayed cars, a man — who was not wearing a mask — used the “mic check” chanting system popularized during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests to relay messages to other protesters.

“Mic check. There’s a baby on board,” he said, according to video of the incident.

Then the man says, “Mic check. Repeat after me. Raise your hand if you’re a Zionist.” He then added, “This is your chance to get out.”

Fellow protesters, some wearing face coverings, repeated the call for Zionists to raise their hands. No one aboard the crowded car appears to raise a hand. “OK no Zionists. We’re good,” the man said, smiling.

Elected officials pointed to the incident as an example of antisemitism at demonstrations criticizing Israel’s military strikes in Gaza.

“These are reprehensible and vile comments,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, said at the time. “I and every New Yorker who stands for peace stand united against them.”

Hochul, also a Democrat, appeared to refer to the incident at a June 13 news conference in which she proposed banning people from wearing masks on the subway system, unless they were doing so for health or religious reasons.

“We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” she said. The man who led protesters in the chant was not wearing a mask, but some people who repeated it were.

Neither Hochul nor state lawmakers have taken any public action to ban face coverings on public transportation since Hochul suggested it.

Face coverings were mandated on the subway system during most of 2021 and 2022 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and many riders still wear them to protect themselves and others from infection.

The definition of the word Zionist and the question of whether anti-Zionism is tantamount to antisemitism have been points of contention for decades.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in May intended to broaden the definition of antisemitism to include “targeting of the state of Israel," a move opposed by many critics of the current Israeli government.