New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio sparked criticism on Tuesday night for a tweet that warned "the Jewish community" against violating coronavirus guidelines after a large Haredi Jewish funeral was held in Brooklyn.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” the mayor wrote. “I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping the disease and saving lives. Period.”
De Blasio called Tuesday night’s funeral gathering, which was for coronavirus victim Rabbi Chaim Mertz, “absolutely unacceptable” and said he had gone there himself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. “What I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus,” he added.
Pictures posted on Twitter show a crowd of Haredi Jews wearing face masks at the corner in Williamsburg. Police Cars are seen around the crowd.
Angry reactions to de Blasio’s tweet poured in on Tuesday night.
City Councilman Chaim Deutsh wrote: “What??? This has to be a joke. Did the Mayor of NYC really just single out one specific ethnic community (a community that has been the target of increasing hate crimes in HIS city) as being noncompliant??”
Senator Ted Cruz also responded, asking: “Would DeBlasio have sent this identical tweet with the word 'Jewish' replaced by any other religious minority? If not, why not? Laws should be enforced neutrally w/o targeting religious faith.”
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Some also accused the mayor of having “double standards,” tweeting out pictures of crowds gathering in Central Park and elsewhere earlier that day for a flyover by Navy and Air Force planes.
“Where was the NYPD?” the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council asked. “Oops. It’s not Hasidim so there is no media and no tweets from you either.”
Organizers of the funeral at the Tola’as Yaakov synagogue, which Rabbi Mertz led, issued a statement published by Yeshiva World News saying that it “hurt that [the funeral procession] led to singling out the Jewish community, and for that we apologize to all Jewish people.”
The statement, signed by the synagogue’s secretary, Jacob Mertz, also apologized for the event ending in “chaos and in controversy” and said the organizers had come up with “a plan to have many streets closed so that mourners can participate and walk the coffin while following social distancing rules and wearing face masks.
“New Yorkers walk the streets daily, thus a funeral – we thought – shouldn’t be different as long as the rules are followed,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out and NYPD had to disperse the crowds … Health and life take precedence to anything else and we shall all follow those rules,” it concluded.
When the coronavirus pandemic began spreading in New York and social distancing guidelines were put in place, many in the Jewish community expressed concern that the current crisis might bring back some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that emerged during the measles outbreak that swept the community last year.
Conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic comments and threats are already spreading rapidly on social media, accusing the Jewish community of not respecting the coronavirus guidelines.
In his reply to the mayor's statement, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that there are over a million Jewish people in New York City and that while the few who don’t social distance should be called out, “generalizing against the whole population is outrageous, especially when so many are scapegoating Jews.”
He added, “This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever.”
De Blasio’s controversial statement comes after he had threatened city synagogues last month that they may be shut down permanently if they continue holding services and violating lockdown rules.
“We’ve had extraordinary, across the board, rabbinical support from all the different elements of the Jewish community,” he said in a press conference video on March 27. “A small number of religious communities, specific churches, specific synagogues are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s been so widespread.”
The mayor added that law enforcement has been instructed to disperse services and if met with resistance, “they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”