New York elected officials, Jewish leaders ‘hurt’ by de Blasio tweet

Mayor: 'If in my passion and in my emotion, I said something that in any way was hurtful, I'm sorry about that'

Richard Drew/AP

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at City Hall, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.

More than 100 local clergy and Jewish leaders, along with New York State elected officials, signed a letter directed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressing “anger and disappointment” at what they called his “scapegoating” of the Jewish community in response to social distancing violations during a large funeral in Brooklyn earlier this week. In a tweet Tuesday night, de Blasio warned “the Jewish community, and all communities” that law enforcement will begin to take more stringent measures to enforce COVID-19-related restrictions. 

Details: The letter, spearheaded by the recently launched New York Jewish Agenda and co-authored by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, cautioned the New York Democrat that “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.” 

List: Elected officials who signed onto the letter include Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), State Senators Brad Hoylman and Julia Salazar; Assemblymembers Harvey Epstein and Linda Rosenthal; and Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, who, respectively, represent parts of the Borough Park and Williamsburg neighborhoods in Brooklyn. 

‘Sorry if’: During a press briefing at City Hall Wednesday morning, de Blasio said he regretted “if the way” he expressed himself “gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way.” The mayor stressed that his comments were “tough love” in a moment of “anger and frustration” after witnessing the violations with his own eyes. “So again, if in my passion and in my emotion, I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that,” de Blasio added. 

Let’s talk: In the letter, the leaders said they were ”hurt” by the comments and requested a meeting with the mayor “to discuss constructive approaches to respond to the pandemic that recognizes the Jewish community’s earnest efforts to fight COVID-19, protect vulnerable communities, and avoid heavy-handed over-policing.” 

Other side of the story: “Jewish communities of every kind from across the city are doing their best to support those who are suffering during this difficult time,” the letter read. “Orthodox communities have organized blood plasma donation centers, testing facilities, and food banks. Other Orthodox community leaders have bravely spoken out for the social distancing necessary to saving lives… Jews have overwhelmingly led and acted responsibly in this moment of social distancing. To suggest otherwise on the actions of a few is the deepest form of marginalization.” 

Clarification: City Hall Spokesperson Freddi Goldstein told JI the mayor’s comments “are directed at those not following the rules” and that “he apologizes to anyone he offended – that was certainly not his intention.”

Citywide reaction: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson implored city leaders “to choose our words carefully, especially in a time of rising antisemitism.” Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) called de Blasio’s statement “tone deaf, insensitive and counterproductive.” In a statement regarding the incident, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York indirectly referenced the tweet by saying, “Words matter.” Agudath Israel of America stated that the mayor “gave the impression that he saw the Jewish community, in particular, as flouting rules of social distancing.”

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