After Jersey City attack, Bill de Blasio recommits to protecting NYC Jewish institutions

Combating Hate

Mayor blames rise in antisemitic attacks on right-wing antisemitism

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Executive Director of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes Deborah Lauter meet with Jewish community leaders in Williamsburg to discuss the City's response to the attack in Jersey City, on Thursday, December 12, 2019.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged on Thursday to increase efforts to root out hate speech and antisemitism in the aftermath of a terror attack at a Jersey City, N.J., kosher supermarket on Tuesday, the deadliest targeted attack against members of the tri-state Jewish community in history. 

Calling it out and acting: “This is a moment to be really, profoundly concerned but history is not a teacher only of the negative, history teaches us something else. Which is these horrible trends, these horrible gathering storms can be stopped if people stand up and refuse to accept the reality,” de Blasio said during a press conference with Orthodox Jewish community leaders in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. “We need to be in the vanguard of stopping this hatred, turning the tide. And that is what we will do.” 

High alert: De Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told JI they were committed to increasing police presence around synagogues and Jewish establishments for as long as necessary. “Until this investigation is absolutely concluded, we are going to be in a state of high alert,” de Blasio told Jewish Insider. “and we’re going to assess the broader backdrop with this new unit focused on racially and ethnically motivated extremism of what kind of threats may be emerging over the horizon. This presence will be ongoing as we make that assessment.”

Shifting blame: The mayor maintained that the growing threat of antisemitism comes from the political right. “Where has the worst antisemitic attacks — before two days ago — happened in the United States of America in recent memory? Pittsburgh, Poway, and other parts of the country. And who were the perpetrators? White supremacists. We know this,” de Blasio explained to JI. “If folks on the right want to play this game with people’s lives, I would say you should be concerned about that. The historic danger to the Jewish people has come from right-wing extremists. That is a fact that is proven so deeply. I will debate anyone, anywhere on that one. De Blasio blamed the rise of violent antisemitic attacks on “a tragic global phenomenon” that has orginiated in Europe with the rise of political movements who are a “direct descendant of Nazism.”

De Blasio also pushed back against criticism that antisemitism has been rising under his watch, attributing it to the dramatic rise of hate speech on the right. “Why is there so much hate speech in America? Why is it different today that it was 4-5 years ago? I think you can fill in the blank. You can love [President Donald Trump], that is your choice, but you can’t miss the fact that the dialogue changed with the election in 2016.” He further insisted that there is an “extraordinary difference” between the rise of antisemitic incidents in New York City and the attacks in Jersey City, Poway and Pittsburgh. “And I will tell you just very clearly, we are going to go at all of it. I don’t care who the perpetrators are.”

De Blasio on the White House’s executive order to combat antisemitism on campus: “I have, honestly, mixed feelings about it. I have not read the exact proper document, but I have mixed feelings. Anything that confronts antisemitism, I support. But I worry, at the same time — as an American — about the balance we always strike in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, particularly on college campuses. So this one leads me to real questions about whether that balance has been struck properly. Someone who disagrees with the Israeli government on a given policy, I don’t consider that antisemitic. If someone bears hatred in their heart towards the Jewish people, that’s antisemitism. So we have to understand where that line is.”

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