NYC mayor urges Orthodox Jewish community not to ‘dwell’ on ‘poor word choice’

turning a page

“I'm at peace that I've explained this circumstance, and I am much more interested now in dealing with the fact that there are lives in danger right now that we have to protect.”

Jacob Kornbluh

Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Borough Park on November 2, 2018.

In a conference call with Orthodox Jewish media representatives on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to assuage critics of his crackdown on social distancing enforcement in heavily Jewish neighborhoods following backlash over his singling out the Jewish community following a large funeral in Williamsburg last week.

Bad choice of words: “Obviously I used words I wish I hadn’t used, and I’ve apologized for that and I continue to apologize for that,” de Blasio said on the call. “I spoke out of a profound sense of the danger right before my eyes to the lives around me, and a frustration that it was an intolerable situation that could not be allowed to continue… If I had changed a few words, I assumed people would say, ’You know, this is someone speaking about an unacceptable gathering and speaking about keeping the community safe and everyone safe.’ And that’s exactly what I intended to say. That piece is true and cannot be lost in any other concerns.” 

Striking a balance: The mayor, responding to several questions about the matter, stressed, “I am not going to equate the mistake of wording to the fundamental act of protecting lives by intervening in something so dangerous.” De Blasio added, “I don’t belittle the words. But, again, you begin by addressing the actual danger to a community, and the right thing to do was to make sure that that did not continue and it would never happen again. And I think by the actions I took, it’s very clear to everyone that this cannot happen again and people needed to hear that message very clearly.” 

Too much to ask for: De Blasio has resisted calls to delete the tweet that drew criticism. “You know in this world, if you take a tweet down, that becomes its own criticism,” he explained. “It’s not my instinct that you take something down, because that tends to come with people thinking something inappropriate is going on in a different way.” The mayor said he was open to discussing with his team whether deleting the post would be “the right thing to do.” 

Longstanding relationship: The mayor repeatedly touted his close relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community, which has spanned nearly two decades. De Blasio, who as a city councilman in the early 2000s represented a number of religious neighborhoods, told journalists on the hour-long call that he defended the community from past attacks — “not by poor word choice or out of a mistake in the middle of a passionate moment, but purposeful systematic discrimination against the community.”

Moving on: “I am someone who believes you always move forward. You don’t dwell on something. You find a way to move forward,” de Blasio said on the call. “I am at peace that what I’ve done has been consistent, I’m at peace that I’ve explained this circumstance, and I am much more interested now in dealing with the fact that there are lives in danger right now that we have to protect.” 

New York-Israel relations: De Blasio told Jewish Insider that while the circumstances are different, he is open to learning how the Jewish state tackled the crisis. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the country’s success in preventing the spread of the virus, announced the easing of many restrictions that have been in place since March. “Our health department has been in touch with health leaders in Israel to get some guidance and some information from their experience,” de Blasio told JI. “I’m certainly looking forward to learning more about what happened in Israel. It could be applicable here as we take these next steps. Israel bears important resemblance to us and an important human connection to us, and there’s things to learn.”

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