Former Hillel director faces trial

A former Northeastern University Hillel director is facing criminal charges stemming from an arrest at a Framingham Synagogue Sunday, April 13.

Martin Federman, who was the NU Hillel director during the early 90’s, has been charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct after what he said was a “non-confrontational” protest. Federman pleaded not guilty in Framingham District Court Monday, April 14. He is currently considering legal action against the Framingham Police Department for using excessive force when handcuffing and arresting him.

Federman’s account of the day’s events are quite different from those of the arresting officer, James Smith.

According to Federman, he and a small group of friends were distributing flyers outside Temple Beth Shalom shortly after Rev. Pat Robertson gave a speech about his support of Israel. Federman said that while he supports Israel, he does not support the devastation of the Palestinian people and that Israel will never be secure until its borders are redefined as they were in 1967 and Israel starts to put more money into the economy and not into protecting settlements. Federman said that while he disagrees with Robertson’s views on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people, that was not his main reason for protesting Robertson’s invitation to speak at the temple.

“It is extremely dangerous for a Synagogue to ally itself with a man whose views on many issues so clearly disagree with basic Jewish values,” Federman said. Some of the issues Federman disagrees with Roberston on include women’s rights and family values.

He claims that the police were aggressive and intent on removing he and his group from the premises despite the fact that he had purchased a ticket to attend the event. According to Federman, Officer James Smith told him he was not permitted to hand out flyers and that he had to leave the property immediately because, “I told you so.”

Upon leaving the property, Federman claims Smith followed him to a nearby parking lot. He remembered that some friends were still in the Synagogue and asked Smith if he could return to let them know he was leaving, at which time Smith told him he was under arrest, Federman said.

“I told [Smith] that I had a neurological condition that affects my left arm and asked that he not put the handcuffs on too tightly,” Federman said.

He claims he was aggressively handcuffed and put in the back of a police van with no windows and was forced to sit in complete darkness. He was later taken to the police station where he was fingerprinted and spent several hours in a holding cell before a friend posted bond.

Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston told him that the pain and discomfort he was suffering after the arrest was most likely due to the manner in which he was taken in to custody and forced to sit in the back of a police van, Federman said.

According to the police report filed by Officer Smith, much of what Federman claims happened is false. The report filed by Smith claims that he asked Federman to leave the area on five different occasions before finally taking him into custody. Smith said Federman became very angry and began to yell and resist arrest, at which point another officer was called to assist.

Lieutenant Lou Griffith, a spokesman for the Framingham Police Department, said that Smith was asked to remove Federman from the property by an individual who is employed at the Synagogue.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Rabbi Gary Greene of Temple Beth Shalom said that at no time did he ask for any demonstrators to be removed from the temple.

“I support their right to protest,” Greene told the Globe. “We weren’t looking to arrest anybody.”

Federman claims that much of the information and the account of the events in the police report are false. According to him, he never began yelling or resisting arrest and another officer was not called over until Smith had already placed the handcuffs on him. Federman said that he was not told what he was being arrested for until he arrived at the police station and was fingerprinted and booked. He said that he still does not understand how he was arrested for trespassing when he had purchased a ticket to attend the event. He also claims that another officer was sympathetic and apologized for the handcuffs being too tight and not being taken off sooner.

“In speaking with someone who knew Mr. Federman while he was at Northeastern, they told me he was like a teddy bear,” said current Director of NU Hillel Beth Meltzer. “I don’t think he meant to be disruptive or anything and I think it was kind of misunderstood and unfortunate.”

Meltzer said that she can understand both sides of the issue, agreeing that a Synagogue has the right to invite any speaker they wish, but that those who disagree also have the right to protest peacefully.

“We [Hillel] are here for all types of students and I think the Synagogue does what it feels is best for all of its constituents,” Meltzer said. “You want to be more open to seeing a middle ground.”

Federman is scheduled to appear in Framingham District Court May 19 for the beginning of his trial.