coronavirus protests

Unmasked Heckler Charged With Unlawful Imprisonment, Inciting Violence in NYC Journalist Attack

Harold "Heshy" Tischler was arraigned Monday evening in the Oct. 7 attack on reporter Jacob Kornbluh, who alleged he was set upon after Tischler pointed him out to the crowd; Tischler was also ordered to stay away from the reporter

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What to Know

  • The same man who wreaked havoc at an NYC health officials' briefing in Brooklyn two weeks ago has been arrested in connection with an attack on a reporter covering Brooklyn COVID rules protests
  • Heshy Tischler was charged with inciting violence, unlawful imprisonment, menacing and harassment in the Oct. 7 attack on reporter Jacob Kornbluh; Kornbluh said the crowd set upon him after Tischler pointed him out
  • The new COVID rules went into effect in hotspot areas of Brooklyn and Queens -- and Orange and Rockland counties -- last week; some communities have protested the renewed gathering size rules

A leader of the Brooklyn COVID protest last week that turned into a violent attack on a well-known local journalist was charged with of inciting violence and unlawful imprisonment, and was ordered by the judge to stay away from the reporter.

Harold "Heshy" Tischler was arraigned Monday evening in the Oct. 7 attack on reporter Jacob Kornbluh, who alleged he was set upon after Tischler pointed him out to the crowd. Tischler, the same unmasked heckler who wreaked havoc at a health officials' briefing in a Brooklyn hotspot two weeks ago, was also charged with menacing and harassment. No plea was entered at the court hearing and he was released, and his next court appearance is scheduled for April 27.

Tischler also was among those who cut the chains off playgrounds in the spring after they were ordered closed by the state. During the video hearing, Tischler’s attorney Abraham Hoschander protested against the judge implementing the order of protection against his client, saying he “poses no danger whatsoever.”

"I'd like to thank my supporters," Tischler said following his arraignment before he was briefly interrupted by his attorney, telling his client not to say anything. "All of my supporters, thank you very much."

Protesters gathered outside the 66th precinct Sunday night after Tischler was taken into custody; the next morning, the NYPD confirmed officers were posted outside Kornbluh's apartment for his protection after protesters moved there in an act of intimidation.

Kornbluh, a reporter for Jewish Insider, said he was attacked Wednesday night in Borough Park while he was reporting on the protest against New York City's latest restrictions on COVID-19 hotspots -- and that Tischler was the one who sparked it.

Video shows a crowd of men, egged on by Tischler, surrounding, jostling and taunting Jewish Insider journalist Jacob Kornbluh, who has been reporting on resistance to social distancing in the neighborhood. Tischler, who was not wearing a mask, can be seen screaming in Kornbluh's face. Kornbluh, who is also an Orthodox Jew, said he was struck and kicked during the incident.

Protests erupted in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood Tuesday and Wednesday night after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions on schools, businesses and houses of worship in some parts of the city and state. NBC New York's Ray Villeda and Checkey Beckford report.

Tischler, a City Council candidate who has been caught on camera making abusive remarks about the mayor's wife and others, later accused Kornbluh of "crying wolf." The judge at Monday's hearing granted an order of protection for the reporter against Tischler, who is not allowed to contact Kornbluh in any manner — both in person or online, which includes someone else contacting Kornbluh on his behalf.

On Friday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said arrests in the case were coming "shortly" and should have happened sooner. Later that day, Tischler tweeted that he expected to be arrested Monday morning at the 66th Precinct.

In videos circulating on social media Sunday night, he expressed his outrage at being arrested and insisted the NYPD was breaking some kind of deal.

Tischler called his arrest a “political stunt” on Twitter. He has said he believed his interactions with Kornbluh were protected by the First Amendment.

"This is definitely a witch hunt, something done by Mayor de Blasio who has been picking on the Jewish community without rhyme or reason," attorney Hoschander said.

The encounter with Kornbluh happened as large protests erupted in Borough Park following Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reinstatement of COVID restrictions on schools, businesses and houses of worship in areas where infection rates have soared.

Most of the areas facing the harshest restrictions are home to large Orthodox Jewish populations; religious leaders have complained of being singled out. The spike in cases coincided with the back-to-back Jewish holidays in late September.

Cuomo said Sunday that the so-called cluster areas contain 2.8 percent of the state’s population, yet have accounted for 17.6 percent of all positive COVID cases reported over the last week. They've also contributed to an increase in total COVID hospitalizations statewide; those have doubled over the last month and hit their highest total Monday (878) since July 1.

The Democratic governor urged people living in those areas to abide by the restrictions even though the new rules ban large gatherings in synagogues. He says the rules aren't targeted to any particular communities but reflect areas that, in his view, flouted COVID protocol and allowed the clusters in the first place.

"We need the ability to focus on these small clusters now. Because if you don't catch a cluster, then it becomes a contagion," Cuomo said in an interivew on "TODAY" Monday. "We have to get smarter as a country. We have to get smarter as states. We're dealing with a virus. We have to use the science and get more sophisticated. And that's where we are in New York."

"We're closing down areas that are about one or two square miles, right? These are tiny areas. But we have that kind of data," he added. "And if you can target that way and close down small areas, then it's not inevitable that the spread gets so large that you would have to close down an entire city or a state."

Cuomo later said during a Monday afternoon conference call with reporters that many of the objections coming from the Orthodox communities did not stem from the regulations put on so-called "red zones," but rather with being told to comply with the initial regulations from months ago that had not been followed.

"They never followed any of the close-down regulations," Cuomo said. "I was talking to community leaders, they said 'How about this — we'll go to 75 percent capacity.' They said 75? The regulation was 50! They never followed any of the regulations, and the regulations weren't enforced. That's why the infection rate is going up."

Cuomo, who touted his long relationship with the Hasidic community that goes all the way back to when his father was governor, said he wasn't targeting the Jewish community in particular with the latest measures, and that "if there is any implication of anti-Semitism in any way, I will fight it with all my might."

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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