NYC Mayor Under Fire for Urging Syrian Jews to Empathize With Refugees

Syrian Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn did not take well to Bill de Blasio's calls for empathy, as they had been kicked out of Syria decades earlier.

AP

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on a Syrian Jewish community in New york to empathize with Muslim refugees from their shared homeland - a call that fell on deaf ears, the New York Post reported.

“I know this community understands deeply the pain of any family that must leave a homeland they love because they were forced away by violence and discrimination,” de Blasio told a Syrian Jewish community in his Sabbath address at Brooklyn's Congregation Shaare Zion.

The worshipers on Ocean Parkway whispered disapprovingly when the mayor drew comparisons between the Syrian refugees and Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.  

Syrian Jews did not endure the Holocaust, but they did endure persecution in their homeland. Whereas in 1947, Syria had a rich Jewish community of around 30,000 people, by 1973, under the rule of Hafez Assad, the father of current Syrian President Bashar Assad, 2,000 Jews remained.

In Syria, he explained, anti-Jewish riots erupted and the government froze Jewish bank accounts, he said referring to the events between 1947 and 1951.

“I was sitting next to a woman who is a Syrian refugee and she really reacted," explained Judy Zarug, a congregant who was present at the speech. "It was uncomfortable.”

Another congregant, who wished to remain nameless, disagreed with de Blasio's comparison between the Jewish victims and modern Syrian refugees as well. Her family remained in Syria until the 1990s, when the government granted exit visas to Jews wishing to leave the anti-Jewish regime. “The difference between me coming here in 1991 with my family," the woman explained, "is that we were kicked out for being Jewish."

According to the Post, the crowd’s only applause came upon de Blasio's vow to protect New York's Jews in the wake of targeted attacks in Jerusalem, Paris, and elsewhere this year.