READ THE LETTER: Dozens of Jewish leaders, clergy sign letter to de Blasio, accusing him of ‘scapegoating’ Jewish community

1010 WINS Newsroom
April 30, 2020 - 7:00 am

    NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- More than 100 Jewish leaders and clergy signed a letter to the mayor on Thursday, accusing him of "scapegoating" the Jewish community over comments he made after a funeral in Brooklyn drew thousands of people into the streets and resulted in 12 summonses being issued.

    "In the midst of an historic wave of antisemitic hate violence in New York City, our community — like the Asian community — has been feeling the pain of being singled out and blamed for the spread of this deadly disease," the letter says. "This singling out is especially potent because it aligns with longstanding antisemitic tropes that have, for millenia, blamed Jews for societal ills."

    The letter continues: "Laying blame upon Hasidic communities — among the most visible members of our Jewish family — will not stop the spread of COVID-19, and referring to these particular communities as “the Jewish community” both flattens a diverse group of New Yorkers into a single bloc and fuels the anti-Semitic hatreds that bubble beneath the surface of our society."

    Read the letter here:

    NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday that 12 summonses were issued after Tuesday's funeral for a variety of offenses, including for violating social distancing and for refusal to disperse.

    "What happened last night simply cannot happen," Shea said. "We cannot have people unnecessarily exposed to a disease that is having a catastrophic effects on our membership and really New Yorkers as a whole."

    De Blasio responded to criticism that he singled out the Jewish community on Twitter after the funeral.

    "If you saw anger and frustration, you're right, I spoke out of real distress that people's lives were in danger before my eyes," de Blasio said.. "I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people the feeling of being treated the wrong way. That was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love. It was anger and frustration."

    "Members of the Jewish community were putting each other in danger and they were putting our police officers in danger," de Blasio added. "Now if I see it in any other community, I'll call that out equally. So again if in my passion and my emotion I said something that was in any way hurtful, I’m sorry about that, that was not my intention. But I also want to be clear that I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying we’re going to deal with it very, very aggressively."

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    An estimated 2,500 mourners packed the streets near the intersection of Rutledge Road and Bedford Avenue. Photos show many Hasidic mourners wearing masks but standing close together in violation of social distancing rules put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    The funeral, which lasted about two hours, was held for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who reportedly died from the coronavirus. There was a large NYPD presence at the scene.

    De Blasio took to Twitter to denounce the gathering—and received pushback for singling out the Jewish population.

    “Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter. “When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus”

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

    In the final of three tweets, de Blasio wrote: “We have lost so many these last two months + I understand the instinct to gather to mourn. But large gatherings will only lead to more deaths + more families in mourning. We will not allow this. I have instructed the NYPD to have one standard for this whole city: zero tolerance.”

    City Hall said de Blasio's comments were directed at those not following the rules, but the remarks drew outrage from a number of leaders, including Council Member Chaim Deutsch.

    “What??? This has to be a joke. Did the Mayor of NYC really just single out one specific ethnic community (a community that has been the target of increasing hate crimes in HIS city) as being noncompliant?? Has he been to a park lately? (What am I saying - of course he has!)” Deutsch wrote.

    “Obviously everyone should be social distancing and being extremely careful - and almost everyone has been! With data trending in a positive direction, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel IF - and only IF - people continue to be vigilant,” Deutsch wrote. “But singling out one community is ridiculous. Every neighborhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned.”

    The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council also responded to the mayor’s comments, pointing out that many attended the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels flyover Tuesday without social distancing.

    “8.5 million people live in NYC. 1.1 mill of those are Jews. 72,000 Jews live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A few hundred (mostly teens) attended a funeral,” OJPAC wrote. “The mayor of this big city rushed to the ‘scene’ and also sent tweets singling out all 1.1 million Jews.”

    OJPAC included photos of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels flyover showing large groups gathered to watch the event.

    The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, also responded, writing: Hey “@NYCMayor, there are 1mil+ Jewish people in #NYC. The few who don’t social distance should be called out — but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews. This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever.”

    Jewish community activist Isaac Abraham told the New York Post that the city knew about the funeral and that several NYPD precincts helped organize and control the event, including setting up barricades beforehand.

    Commissioner Shea said members of the local precinct were in contact with members of the community on what to expect after they got word of the funeral.

    Shea said "contigency plans were put into place" and that a number of officers were detailed in the "unlikely event that large numbers came."

    He said when a large crowd showed up, people was dispersed in "short time" and the summonses were issued.

    "Make no mistake, large gatherings such as this are putting members of my department at risk and it cannot happen and it will not happen," Shea said.

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