WASHINGTON (CN) – Two men pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that they assaulted a Palestinian-American professor and other protesters outside of a pro-Israel conference.
Appearing in D.C. Superior Court for the first time since since their Dec. 20 indictment, Rami Lubranicki, 60, and Yosef Steynovitz, 32, face five charges related to the 2017 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group that describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.”
Kamal Nayfeh, who is a professor at a community college in Charlotte, told the Washington Post last year that he was speaking to a woman who was shouting outside the March 26 conference that Palestine doesn’t exist when a group of people wearing clothes with Jewish Defense League logos started punching and beating him with flagpoles.
The Jewish Defense League is a right-wing extremist group the FBI labeled as a terrorist organization in 2001. The group’s goal is to “protect Jews from antisemitism by whatever means necessary,” and its website refers to Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and “Soros-funded leftist groups” as “domestic separatist terrorists creating division and instability.”
Lubranicki, who faces two counts of simple assault for allegedly hitting two other pro-Palestine protesters, appeared in court on Tuesday with a shaved head and a long, white goatee.
While Lubranicki was wearing jeans and a blue jacket, Steynovitz appeared in a dark suit with a red and black tie. His dark hair fell at his shoulders and curled in the back.
Steynovitz faces three charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault and assault with significant bodily injury, which comes with a hate-crime enhancement based on race or national origin, according to the indictment.
Steynovitz used a Hebrew translator during the hearing, and the translator had to speak loudly and repeat phrases multiple times because the 32-year-old is hard of hearing.
Defense attorney Nathan Lewin said Steynovitz lives in Canada and had to spend nearly five hours at the border crossing to attend today’s hearing.
Because of the travel difficulties his client faces, Lewin requested Judge Steven Berk let Steynovitz waive his appearance at certain future hearings in the case, a request Berk granted.
Steynovitz and Lubranicki are next due in court on April 17 for a status conference, where the parties could possibly set a trial date. Lewin said after the hearing that the government has not yet offered a plea deal in the case.