Hassidic Jews targeted in gel pellet attacks in NYC

The three suspects drove through Williamsburg for three nights shooting gel pellets at Ultra-Orthodox Jews from a toy gun.

 Orbeez gell balls. (photo credit: FLICKR)
Orbeez gell balls.
(photo credit: FLICKR)

Hassidic Jews were targeted by three men in gel-pellet drive-by shooting incidents over the course of three nights. Jewish residents of the Brooklyn, New York neighborhood of Williamsburg were subjected to nightly harassment from Sunday, November 6th through Tuesday, November 9th.

The perpetrators of the incidents, Zakaria Moataz, Dorian Watt, and Jacob Hernandez were arrested on Tuesday the 9th.

This incident, and incidents like it, have been labeled as part of a so-called "Orbeez TikTok challenge." The supposed challenge on the massive social media platform, TikTok, is said to encourage people to fire orbeez-style gel pellets from toy guns at random people.

However, while an orbeez challenge does exist on the social media platform, the challenge is often related to ASMR content, (content that is pleasing or calming using audio or visuals that people find satisfying). The TikTok challenge is not associated with shooting the water-based gel pellets at strangers.

Nevertheless, over the course of this year, police departments and security camera footage have suggested an uptick in people using toy guns that shoot orbeez pellets being used to shoot at people.

Hasidic Jewish men gather for a morning prayer outside of a synagogue, closed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York (credit: REUTERS)Hasidic Jewish men gather for a morning prayer outside of a synagogue, closed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York (credit: REUTERS)

Previous orbeez attacks on Jews

Back in March, the Volusia, Florida Sheriff's Office shared a video on their Facebook page showing several separate orbeez shooting attacks.

The orbeez shooting incidents in Williamsburg, however,

They have also been suggested to be antisemitically motivated. 

The orbeez attacks perpetrated by Moataz, Watt, and Hernandez were all perpetrated against Hasidic Jews only, despite the fact that Williamsburg is comprised of a variety of highly diverse communities. 

Additionally, one of the perpetrators, Dorian Watt, when questioned by the police said that he "can’t be committing a hate crime because [he] is a real Hebrew." This is a parrot of the anti-semitic Black Hebrew Israelite narrative that black people are the true Israelites while Jewish people are imposters.

The statement seems consistent with recent events such as the controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving's sharing of an anti-semitic film on his Twitter account, Kanye West's online rants, and Dave Chappelle's suggestion that Jewish people calling out antisemitism is somehow an attempt to "blame [the historic oppression of the Jewish people] on [all] black Americans."

The defendants have maintained that their actions against the Hassidic Jews were independent of their victims being Jewish.

Jacob Hernandez's legal aid, Laurie Dick dismissed the hate-crime accusations. She held that there is no evidence to suggest antisemitic motivation as there was “nothing said” by any of the three defendants “to support a hate crime.”