De Blasio Politicized Anti-Semitism — and Endangered Jews

January 2, 2020
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks on stage during People en Español 6th Annual Festival To Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Getty Images for Festival People en Español)

Last week, a flurry of anti-Semitic attacks plagued New York City during the Festival of Lights. On Dec. 23 in Manhattan, an assailant reportedly punched and kicked an elderly Orthodox man, shouting, “F—you, Jew bastard!” That evening in Brooklyn, police received a report that teenagers assaulted a Jewish 6-year-old and 7-year-old. 

On Dec. 24, a group hurled a drink and anti-Semitic hate speech at a Crown Heights resident. Two days later, police arrested a woman for spitting slurs and then bashing a Jewish woman in the face with a bag.

By Dec. 27, an attacker slapped three other Jewish women while shrieking anti-Semitic epithets. Hours later, a man entered the Lubavitch World Headquarters, threatening to shoot the Jews inside. On Dec. 28, another assailant carried out a similar threat. A man trespassed into a rabbi’s home and started stabbing people at a Hanukkah party. 

This pogrom is not a sudden phenomenon; it’s an escalation of assaults Jews have experienced in NYC for years. 

How did this happen? How did New York Mayor Bill de Blasio fail to stop it?

De Blasio, like many in office, only confronted anti-Semitism when he could pin it on a political rival. “The ideological movement that is anti-Semitic is the right-wing movement,” de Blasio said last June. His inability to acknowledge, let alone address, anti-Semitism without politicizing it may have contributed to the violence in his city.

“I want to be very, very clear. The violent threat, the threat that is ideological, is very much from the right,” the mayor said of anti-Semitic hate crimes, which spiked by 20% in NYC this year. Yes, right-wing hate has led to Jewish bloodshed in Pittsburgh and Poway. However, there is no evidence those individuals beating Jews in New York hold reactionary views.

It took until September for de Blasio to admit mainly youth and mentally ill people, not neo-Nazis, perpetrate assaults on Jews.

Still, days after four people were murdered in a Jersey City kosher supermarket, de Blasio continued “right washing” anti-Semitism. “The violence overwhelmingly is coming from right-wing forces, white supremacist forces, direct linear descents of Nazism and fascism and the Ku Klux Klan. That’s the reality,” de Blasio said in December, refusing to ascribe any ideology to the Jersey City shooters. However, the Anti-Defamation League uncovered numerous social media posts linking one of those assailants to the anti-Semitic offshoots of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement.

The truth is, this anti-Semitic frenzy never should have escalated to the point where these tactics were necessary.

Given the kosher supermarket shooting was 2019’s most lethal anti-Semitic episode, claims like “anti-Semitism is a right-wing force” no longer are valid. This idea is even less valid when you take into account the assailants planned to murder 50 Jewish children with a pipe bomb in the yeshiva
next door.

Yet, de Blasio continued to put politics before Jewish people’s safety.

While Jews were being beaten on his streets, the mayor scolded his conservative predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, for comments about George Soros the ADL said promoted Jewish conspiracy theories. “I know Rudy Giuliani is determined to set new lows in pathetic, spineless behavior these days — but this anti-Semitic rant is particularly dangerous,” de Blasio immediately tweeted in response.

It’s not that New York’s and Jersey City’s violent hate crimes are coming from de Blasio’s left-wing allies; however, they aren’t in the name of conservativism, either. The brutal anti-Semitism on the streets of those cities has been mostly apolitical, unlike de Blasio’s response to them.

It took until anti-Semitic assaults were occurring daily for the mayor to finally try to protect Jewish New Yorkers. After the sixth anti-Semitic Hanukkah attack, de Blasio announced he would increase police presence in Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg. The decision has raised legitimate concerns about increased police brutality in minority neighborhoods. But the truth is, this anti-Semitic frenzy never should have escalated to the point where these tactics were necessary.

De Blasio refused to acknowledge anti-Semitism as anything other than the fault of his political enemies. Unwatched, the pot boiled. Now it’s overflowing.

Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist.

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