Lyft fires driver for assaulting Hassidic Jewish passenger

Police did not classify it as a hate crime when Rabbi Menachem Shemtov put in a complaint after being punched and cut in the face.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Lyft ride-sharing company has fired a driver who assaulted his Hassidic Jewish passenger on Sunday just a minute into the pick-up, which the police are not classifying as a hate crime.

“Lyft unequivocally condemns this behavior,” a spokesperson said on Monday. “Upon learning of this incident, we deactivated the driver and we’ve been in touch with the rider. We encourage riders and drivers to report harassment, discrimination, or safety concerns in the Lyft app.”

Rabbi Menachem Shemtov had ordered the ride after morning services in his father’s Washington D.C. Chabad center. When he asked the driver to turn down music that had been blasting from his radio, the driver turned it off, mentioning that Shemtov could have requested “no music” as part of his order, which the rabbi acknowledged.

After a turning the corner, however, the driver changed his tune, as Shemtov told DC News later.

“He ordered me out of the vehicle, he doesn’t like my energy or the energy of people like me,” Shemtov recalled. “I asked him what did I say, what did I do, he wasn’t able to give me an answer” besides talking of his “energy.”

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In a video of the first part of the incident that he recorded on his phone, Shemtov showed the thin, black-skinned driver expressing anger about his passenger having slammed the door on his way out of the car, and then immediately attacking him.

Shemtov went on to describe how the driver knocked off his skullcap and prevented him from retrieving it for a few seconds. The victim said he managed to grab the yarmulke and ran towards the driver’s car to try and get a picture of its license plate, “and he then strikes me further.”

“This was definitely fueled by a lot of hate,” he added.

An eyewitness also recorded the assault, showing the driver throwing several fast blows in a row towards Shemtov, who is trying to duck away.

The assailant had a key sticking out of his fist, and it cut Shemtov on the forehead as well as well as on his upper cheek, which was more dangerous than the dry blows he received.

“Thankfully it wasn’t an inch higher, otherwise it would have been my eye,” he noted.

The rabbi told NBC News that he believed that the attack could have been motivated by antisemitism.

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“He told me to go out of the vehicle, I am very visibly a Jewish individual,” the bearded victim explained. Touching his skullcap, he continued, “I’m very proud of my Judaism, I wear my religious articles very visibly and proudly, and then more than that he then chases after me and physically assaults me.”

The News 4 reporter said that “DC police say they are not investigating this as a hate crime” after Shemtov complained to them regarding the incident. DC News reported that the police had hedged that statement, saying that “Detectives are still in the early stages of the investigation.”

No arrest has been made as yet, although the driver has been identified.