Protesters at City Hall demand action against a spate of anti-Semitic crime, especially in Brooklyn, saying: “Where are our elected officials?”
By Shiryn Ghermezian, JNS
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of City Hall in New York on Sunday, calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other municipal leaders, as well as those on the national level, to act against anti-Semitism and the wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes taking place against the Orthodox Jewish community.
The rally—titled “Name It to Fight It! It’s Antisemitism!”—was organized by WoMen Fight AntiSemitism (WMFA) in coalition with 14 organizations, including The Lawfare Project and Zionist Organization of America.”
Protestors held signs that read “We Will Not be Silent #HateStopsHere,” and “Anti-Semitic attacks nearly doubled in NYC in 2019! Where are our elected officials?!” Another sign asked, “Where is [New York City] Mayor de Blasio?” in the fight against anti-Semitism, while one read “A little less conversation, a lot more action.”
“We’re angry. Rightfully so and long overdue,” said Rhonda Hodas Hack, who attended the demonstration. “This rally was different from others because you had speakers—Jewish, Christian, black, American, European—who spoke not only articulately, but with the courage to demand truth not only from our leaders, as need be and should be expected, but from our peers. Our peers who have failed us, Jews and blacks and whites … for they have capitulated to the demands of those who wish to control us with their many manipulations, not who wish to lead us with authentic truths and towards genuinely healthy solutions.”
Demonstrators hailing from New York, Boston and Florida slammed the media, as well as Jewish organizations and elected officials, for not caring enough about the hate crimes committed against Jews.
National Conference of Jewish Affairs spokesman Rabbi Arya Spero said at the rally, ”Perhaps our top bureaucrats aren’t willing to face and pinpoint the real problem. The grassroots Jewish activists and people know what is happening, can’t be fooled, and are energized to do what the establishment is unwilling to do.”
Spero chastised the 35 Jewish members of Congress for not condemning attacks on Jews and criticized politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who he said “seem to be choosing their loyalty to the Democrat Party, liberalism and even their careers over the need of the hour regarding Jewish safety.”
The rally took place just days apart from two anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish residents in the borough of Brooklyn.
‘Pain and politics prevent honest discourse’
More than half of the hate crimes reported in New York City this year have been deemed anti-Semitic, according to New York Police Department officials. Anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City are up 63 percent this year as compared with last year, and in 2019, there have already been 152 reports of anti-Semitic hate crimes, while over the same period last year there were 93.
Debra Corso, founder of Never Again United and leader of the WMFA Florida chapter, had the idea for the rally and was there on Sunday. She told JNS, “The terrible new wave of anti-Semitism targeting Jews in New York needed a loud response as opposed to radio silence from media and too many elected officials. As a community, we are facing a convergence of several strains of anti-Semitism increasingly expressed violently.”
She added, “Too often, pain and politics prevent honest discourse around the varied ideologies which fuel these attacks. These are difficult and painful conversations, but we must have the moral courage required to have them and the wisdom to speak with clarity, sensitivity and without assigning collective judgment.”
Speaking to JNS after the demonstration, Nissan Jacobs, founder and CEO of WMFA, said she felt positive about the rally, and that it was “day one of more to come.” She said the bipartisan coalition of organizations is “serious about moving the needle” and making officials take action against anti-Semitism, adding that “we are riding an amazing uphill battle.”
Jacobs called New York “a cesspool of anti-Semitism for three straight years, escalating to the point of our current crisis,” and denounced the head of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, which opened on Sept. 3 under the leadership of de Blasio, for not attending the rally.
She told JNS, “We are really on our own in this city. Which means the city should look forward to our next moves. Our 14 organization-strong coalition, with stellar leaders and our amazing core group of fearless outspoken Jewish leaders, and all those joining us from across the world and waking up to our unwavering commitment to making #NeverAgain a verb, are on our own together.”
Former New York state assemblyman Dov Hikind called on the mayor to “declare a state of emergency” in New York in regards to its anti-Semitism crisis and to take action to combat it. He told JNS that the purpose of the rally was to send a message about anti-Semitism—“that we won’t tolerate it in silence, and that we expect the city to do a much better job at securing Jewish neighborhoods.”
He also noted that tackling the core issue of anti-Semitism is a collective effort. He said that it has to be dealt with on a communal level “to get to the bottom of what drives so many youths to randomly and wantonly violate identifiable Jews with such senseless violence.”
And that work, he said, “is on all of us—the Jewish community, as well as the non-Jewish minority communities where these attackers are coming from.”
“The rally was just a step towards taking back our city, so that it doesn’t descend to the depths of anti-Semitic despair,” said Hikind. “We’re happy to hear that the NYPD will be bolstering their presence in Jewish neighborhoods for the High Holidays, but that’s a Band-Aid, not a cure. We need to find a cure … and quickly.”
Bryan Leib, board member of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, a co-organizer of the rally, told JNS that “all Americans have a responsibility to speak out and demand action from elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders to end anti-Semitic attacks targeting Jews in NYC and all around the country.”
Said Leib: “Anti-Semitism is anti-American. Enough is enough.”
In a statement responding to the rally, de Blasio’s office said, “The Mayor and the City of New York have absolutely zero tolerance for any form of anti-Semitism. Our message is and always will be clear: Hate will not be tolerated in this city.”
The mayor recently acknowledged his obligation to make sure the Jewish community in New York is protected, adding that it’s the “sacred responsibility of the NYPD as well.”