Brooklyn’s Year Of Living Dangerously
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Anti-Semitism Watch

Brooklyn’s Year Of Living Dangerously

Fighting anti-Orthodox crime (and how it’s covered) leaves unanswered questions.

Associate Editor

Pedestrians walk past a yeshiva in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in April. Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past a yeshiva in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in April. Getty Images

Last October, after a white supremacist murdered 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue, there were special services and vigils in synagogues around the country. On the Sunday after the Oct. 28 attack, at Congregation Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side, where more than 1,000 Jews were waiting to get into one communal gathering, one person was overheard saying to a friend, “If charedi Jews were attacked in Borough Park, do you think anyone would come out, like tonight?”

He added, “Pittsburgh was the perfect storm: A white supremacist killing non-Orthodox Jews — the kind of Jews most of us can relate to. And it’s a chance to pin the tail on the donkey,” a chance to connect President Trump to the surge in violent white supremacy.

“That’s disgusting,” snapped his friend. “If anything happened to Jews anywhere, Orthodox or not, Jews would absolutely care.”

Almost a year later, no Orthodox Jews have been killed in Brooklyn but more than 150 chasidic and yeshivish Jews — several hundred Jews over the years — in Brooklyn’s Orthodox neighborhoods have been assaulted with bricks, fists, belts, metal, spit upon, even women having their sheitels (ritual wigs) pulled off. The mostly lukewarm response by politicians and media, along with an absence of Jewish vigils or rallies has, over the past year, elicited astonishment from Jewish papers from London to Los Angeles, from Haaretz to the Christian Broadcasting Network, to general interest papers in Washington and Florida. A September roundtable in the L.A. Jewish Journal headlined: “Why are anti-Semitic attacks in New York being ignored?” The Journal added, “many are wondering why more attention isn’t being paid to these horrific and all-too-common crimes.”

In late August, London’s Jewish Chronicle headlined an op-ed by Daniel Sugarman, “Where are America’s Jewish social justice campaigners when the strictly Orthodox are attacked?” Sugarman added, “The loudest voices against racism and injustice in America mysteriously disappear when [c]haredim are on the receiving end.” The New York Post headlined an op-ed piece, “Anti-Semitic attacks are rising in Brooklyn and [it] seems like no one cares.” That op-ed was four months ago; the attacks continued through the summer.

Karol Markowicz wrote in her Post column, “the larger Jewish community would never stand by while another group was singled out for violence in this way. Yet there are no marches, no speeches and no demands made by the liberal Jewish community in defense of our Orthodox co-religionists. … The attacks, and the silence of progressive New York, are utterly appalling.”

A 64-year-old Hasidic resident of Brooklyn was bloodied with this brick in an attack being investigated by police as a hate crime. (Screenshots from Twitter/via JTA)

David Marcus wrote in The Federalist, an online political journal, “Imagine that members of [another] minority were being frequently physically assaulted in America’s largest city at alarming rates … Imagine what a powerful and important story this would be to our country, how mobilized the media and government would be to stop it. But what if I told you that this is happening in New York City right now, and nobody seems to care very much? How can this be?”

For months, the Jewish community has been essentially screaming for help. In February, after four attacks against chasidic men in Crown Heights in less than a month, The Jewish Week reported that community leaders and local politicians were “searching for answers” about the rash of hate crimes. In June, Tablet, the online Jewish daily magazine, reported that “the incidents now pass without much notice, a steady, familiar drumbeat of violence and hate targeting visibly Jewish people in New York City.” In July, Mosaic, Tikvah’s daily online journal, headlined: “Attacks on Jews Have Become Commonplace … .”

Jonathan Tobin, editor of the Jewish News Syndicate, wrote this month, “If any other religious minority were facing this kind of threat, it’s not hard to imagine that the reaction from … the mainstream media would be something close to panic. Yet calm has prevailed…”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, for one, has periodically spoken up: He called the crime wave a “right-wing phenomenon,” and for months he’d been pledging to do something about it. Two weeks ago the mayor appointed Deborah Lauter, a former senior vice president at the Anti-Defamation League, to lead a new hate crimes prevention office in City Hall. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the violence was provoked by “the tone set by the president, who has unleashed the dogs of hatred.” Lauter told The Jewish Week, “words have consequences.” (Lauter also said that the anti-Semitism comes from both the left and the right.)

If her appointment was intended as a sign that politicians were beginning to get it, blaming it on “a right-wing phenomenon” put the politicians on a completely different track from Orthodox Jews on the street, and put the politicians completely at odds with journalists at The New York Times. The problem was hardly so simple, wrote Gina Bellafante in The Times — all the way back last November. “If anti-Semitism bypasses consideration as a serious problem in New York, it is to some extent because it refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy.” Bellafante reported that in the 22 months after Trump’s election “not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group.”

A poster for a book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg was vandalized in Brooklyn. Chevi Friedman/Twitter via JTA

(According to NYPD figures released at the time of Lauter’s hiring, from 2017 to 2019, 54 percent of anti-Jewish crimes were committed by whites, 33 percent by blacks, 8 percent by Hispanics and 4 percent by Asians.)

Ten months after Bellafante’s article, Bari Weiss, an op-ed writer for The New York Times, wrote last Sunday, “In the last week of August, there were three assaults” on charedi men in Brooklyn — attacks largely not covered by the pressbecause “the perpetrators were not white supremacists.”

Rabbi Motti Seligson, director of Chabad’s media relations, recently posted on Instagram, these attacks happened “in Crown Heights,” a black and West Indian neighborhood, “not in Charlottesville nor at the hands of white supremacists.” These attacks were an old-fashioned pogrom-style beat-down. “I’m told they stole nothing,” posted Seligson, “just brutally beat the guy.”

If “words have consequences,” what about the ongoing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel words spoken relentlessly by Rev. Louis Farrakhan, or those leading the Women’s March, “who are open admirers of this purveyor of crude anti-Semitism?” asked Tobin. What about the anti-Semitic words spoken by Rep. Ilhan Omar? asked both Yaacov Behrman, an Orthodox community board member, and Motty Katz, a member of the Borough Park Shomrim (a defense squad), quoted by Haaretz. (Omar’s comments about Jews and money were widely criticized as anti-Semitic by Democratic lawmakers, though a House resolution in the wake of her remarks condemned bigotry of all kinds rather than singling out Omar’s anti-Semitism; she apologized for her comments.) Of course, writes Tobin, there is no hard evidence linking Orthodox assaults to Farrakhan, but “it’s far easier to connect the dots between him and those crimes than it is to try to blame Trump.”

The problem of media under-reporting crime by certain minorities for political reasons echoes what has been happening in Germany, where anti-Jewish crimes by Muslims are often linked instead to white supremacists. For example, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has stated that far-right groups were responsible for about 90 percent of German anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, even though a survey of German Jewish victims found that 57 percent said their attackers were Muslim or leftists. “The new Muslim anti-Semitism is taboo, as addressing it would only strengthen opponents of immigration,” wrote Krisztina Koenen, a journalist for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a Hungarian-Jewish magazine Neokohn.

Although several articles focused on Jewish gentrification and housing issues as a motivation for some of the Brooklyn attacks, Armin Rosen pointed out in Tablet, how come there are not violent attacks against gentrifying white hipsters in the same neighborhoods?

However, no one in the media has come up with a satisfactory answer regarding the passivity to the crisis by Modern Orthodox or non-Orthodox Jews, Jews who waited around the block to show solidarity with Pittsburgh’s Jews, or Jews who marched in the Women’s March but haven’t marched down Kingston or Lee Avenues in solidarity with the “terrified” Jews of Brooklyn. Of course, no Brooklyn Jew has been murdered yet; just beaten with everything from fists to bricks.

The Jewish reaction, dear reader, is a question best answered by you. 

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