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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

With anti-Semitic assaults on visibly identifiable Jews in the New York area continuing seemingly without letup, many are asking why the largest population center of American Jewry finds itself immersed in what some have likened to a modern-day, slow-motion pogrom.

If anything, the attacks have become so incessant that it is practically impossible to keep track without resorting to the use of a spreadsheet.

And yet the anti-Semitic viciousness that appears to be so consistently on display from some members of an African-American community that Jews had long identified with as victims of injustice seems to induce a sense of confusion or even outright denial, especially for Jewish liberals.

At the same time, a set of political and social circumstances common to New York and New Jersey has forced Jews in both states to come to terms with a situation many had once considered unlikely or even impossible.

In New York, even before the increasingly notorious “bail reform” law went into effect on January 1, we were shown how this radical policy dovetails with resurgent anti-Semitism to put the Jewish community at increased risk.

The outrageous case of Tiffany Harris caused the failures of de Blasio, Cuomo and the Democrat majority in the state legislature to be laid bare before the entire nation. Harris, an African-American woman accused of assaulting Jewish women in Brooklyn while spewing anti-Semitic venom, was arrested only to be instantly released pursuant to the new law. She then allegedly assaulted another Jewish victim, was rearrested and promptly rereleased. Subsequently, she was arrested yet again.

There is no indication from Albany that relief from this far-left experiment is on the immediate horizon.

And there are other indications that public officials in New York are failing to seriously tackle the issue of rising anti-Semitism.

Consider the initial unwillingness of New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. to adequately charge an African-American woman who allegedly assaulted a Jewish woman while subjecting her to anti-Semitic vitriol on the subway. Under public pressure, he then changed his mind and decided to present the matter to a grand jury as a hate crime.

His initial reluctance to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserved was particularly problematic in light of the nightmarish reality that the simple act of riding the New York subway has become for too many openly identifiable Jews.

Long before the Monsey attack, Jews in New York were also on the receiving end of poisonous political propaganda that crossed the line of acceptability, including from those affiliated with the Republican Party.

The propaganda piece titled, “A Storm is Brewing in Rockland,” which was posted to the Rockland County GOP’s Facebook page last summer and defended by its chairman Lawrence Garvey, was enough to remind us of that. The Republican Jewish Coalition called the widely panned video “absolutely despicable” and “pure anti-Semitism.”

For his part, in a statement that appeared to criticize the video while embracing at least some of its substance, County Executive Ed Day, a Republican, said that the “tone and undercurrent” of the video was not acceptable but described its content as “factual.”

The same type of political incitement, reluctance of public officials to acknowledge blatant anti-Semitism and outright violence that occurred in New York, has been on display in New Jersey as well.

While Monsey was a wake-up call for many, these issues did not seem to come into broader focus until the atrocity that took place last month in New Jersey. I of course refer to the horrific attack on the JC Kosher Supermarket that claimed the lives of four innocent people.

Not long after the massacre, Joan Terrell-Paige, an African-American member of the Jersey City board of education, wrote a Facebook post replete with rhetoric one might expect from a neo-Nazi. She referred to Jewish “brutes” and rabbis “selling body parts” before saying that the two killers “went directly to the kosher supermarket” knowing that they would “come out in body bags.” She actually asked her readers to consider the “message” they were sending.

Calls for her resignation have gone unheeded. She was likely buoyed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s Black Caucus statement that while it does not agree with the “delivery” of Terrell-Paige’s post, she “heightened awareness around issues that must be addressed and should be a topic of a larger conversation.” Sound familiar?

Just as incitement on the part of elected officials has become a feature of political life in New Jersey as it has in New York, so has the refusal to treat obviously anti-Semitic incidents appropriately on the law-enforcement level.

Such prosecutorial failures recently followed anti-Semitic incidents like the assault on Jewish patrons of Sammy’s Bagels in Teaneck, the spraying of Jews with water guns as they walked to synagogue last summer (also in Teaneck) and the vile graffiti sprayed outside of a Highland Park synagogue after the Monsey attack.

While it is true that the Jewish response to this crisis must be multi-faceted, and we certainly cannot rely solely on public officials. The example provided by Mr. Vance’s prosecutorial course correction with respect to the New York subway incident is instructive.

To reverse a trend in which New York and New Jersey are becoming de facto sanctuary states for anti-Semitic hate, there is no substitute for the kind of public pressure that is now desperately called for. The question is whether or not we are outraged enough to apply it.

As reported in the JLNJ, at a recent community meeting with public officials in Teaneck, audience members refused to accept Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella’s explanation for his failure to file hate crimes charges for anti-Semitic incidents. Musella even briefly lost control of his audience. It is precisely this type of normal, healthy Jewish indignation that needs to be given more expression.

Our adversaries, as well as the often clueless and/or feckless officials charged with overseeing political and legal affairs in our communities, have already sent plenty of “messages” about “conversations” they would like to have with us. Even as we maintain our commitment to be exemplary, law-abiding citizens, it has nonetheless become necessary to send a few clear messages of our own.


Eric Ruskin is an attorney in New Jersey and a member of the board of directors of the Israel Independence Fund.