Government-sponsored anti-Semitism in New York City

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

The only thing that’s worse than the way New York City is treating its Jewish population is the coverage of it from the media.

In October, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) imposed several controversial mandates aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 within New York City. The problem is that Jewish leaders within the city feel that the mandates unfairly target their religious practitioners. Cuomo’s mandates, including school closings, the shuttering of restaurants, and the limiting of religious gatherings, were targeted to specific locations throughout the city; locations that happen to have high Jewish populations. Incidentally, New York City has the largest population of Jews outside of Israel, numbering around 1.2 million or 13% of the population.

Even worse than these so-called “hotspot lockdowns” is the disproportionate manner of their enforcement, in which the Orthodox Jewish population in New York have been unfairly targeted. These measures include nothing short of harassment by the city’s Department of Public Health “inspection teams” for such violations as a business having its front door propped open on a crisp fall afternoon, as well as locked fences around playgrounds in Jewish neighborhoods. (The residents of one neighborhood responded in turn by cutting the locks on the fence and resuming their use of the park.)

One can’t help wondering: is it really a coincidence that the Jewish community has been hit so hard by the new mandates? New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s now-famous Tweet from April seems to sum his feelings up:

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping the disease and saving lives. Period.”

I’m sure that his staff helped him compose this tweet. I’m also sure that it was not his idea to add the “all communities” line, but rather that he was advised to include it so as not to appear overly anti-Semitic.

He failed miserably.

As bad as Cuomo and De Blasio have been, the media cheerleading of their actions has been even worse. Particularly anti-Semitic has been the coverage from The Daily Beast, whose editor-in-chief boasted in a 2018 interview that the site takes “full, big, considered swings” at the targets who deserve it.

For an organization that claims to be a “high-end tabloid” and boastfully “takes a side,” that “throws a punch” and calls “bullshit on the things that need to be called bullshit on,” it would appear journalistic integrity isn’t high on its list of values.

The Daily Beast hasn’t missed a chance to criticize New York’s Jewish community – centering especially on religious gatherings and Hasidic weddings, all of which are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. That the city and state have tried to shut down Hasidic Jewish religious ceremonies is unconscionable; that the folks over at The Daily Beast have become cheerleaders for their attempts to subvert the Constitution even more so.

The mainstream media, and particularly The Daily Beast, should be ashamed of themselves for how they have portrayed Hasidic Jews and the Jewish population of New York City. They are simply people who wish to be left alone to worship as they choose. Instead, The Daily Beast has become a repository of bigoted reporting.

It celebrated De Blasio’s decision to issue a fine on the Satmar Hasidic community over a potential super spreader wedding that took place in Brooklyn and drew thousands of people earlier this month. But it couldn’t help but take a jab: the fine, it said, was a “paltry” $15,000.

Then, The Daily Beast reported the New York State Department of Health was investigating a Hasidic wedding in upstate New York on Nov. 23 at a synagogue. In its description of the event, The Daily Beast actually appeared to take pride in describing a “steady stream of bearded, black-hatted men” who were seen gathering at the synagogue. Thank you for the clarification. We know how a Hasidic Jew dresses; likewise, we know the type of facial hair Hasidic Jews have.

As well as their anti-Semitic, anti-Constitutional policies, New York’s leadership have also displayed gross hypocrisy in their approach to “hotspot lockdowns”.

One example is the fact that liquor stores are considered “essential” but houses of worship are limited and highly scrutinized, with inspectors repeatedly harassing synagogues and churches for simply conducting services. These, too, are the same officials who allowed massive Black Lives Matter protests — but are now cracking down on religious gatherings.

A recent Supreme Court ruling deals a harsh blow to Cuomo and De Blasio and is a huge victory for the religious freedom of the Jews of New York City. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declared that limits on religious gatherings that Governor Andrew Cuomo placed into effect are unconstitutional, and immediately blocked the Governor’s actions. Cuomo’s response was to attack the SCOTUS decision, calling it a case of political partisanship.

Here’s an alternative idea.

Educate and lead.

We know how devastating the lack of a unified coronavirus strategy has been for the country. It is beholden on the mayorship to stem the ultimate New York City death toll from the coronavirus. So, if the Jewish community is casting doubt on the severity of the virus and they believe people are defying restrictions, use the money you cut in a kneejerk reaction to defund the police to explain to community leaders the need for social distancing, provide more hand sanitizer and more disposable masks. Give special attention to communities that need it. Understand their commitment to ritual might be different to yours but implore through words, not force, how they should abide by public health guidelines. To borrow an old phrase, use the carrot, not the stick.

Perhaps if such a thoughtful, considered approach were taken we might not have to watch as these communities are portrayed by media such as The Daily Beast as selfish, backward, religious fanatics who gather for evil purposes.

This government-sponsored anti-Semitism has gotten out of control. It’s to the point now where anti-Semitism is mainstream and isn’t even questioned anymore. Those concerned should hang their heads in shame.

Dylan Howard
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