WASHINGTON — Following a vicious anti-Semitic attack late Saturday night — in which a man wielding a machete assaulted Jews at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York — the head of the Anti-Defamation League scolded a new bail law in the Empire State that could allow some perpetrators of hate crimes to walk free.
“If you commit a hate crime, if you attack an elderly person because he’s wearing a black hat, if you physically assault someone because of the way they pray, there should be no bail for you,” Jonathan Greenblatt told The Times of Israel. “We need a deterrence of real consequences when these things happen.”
The law, which was pushed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, formally goes into effect January 1 but is already being implemented. It will end cash bail for misdemeanors and many nonviolent offenses.
The new statute will not apply in the Monsey case, but some of its critics argue that it will allow people who commit hate crimes to re-enter society immediately after they’ve been detained.
Greenblatt said he agreed with lighter, more rehabilitative approaches for certain nonviolent offenses, such as a teenager hopping a turnstile or shoplifting, but called for harsher penalties for violent hate crimes.
At the same time, he embraced rehabilitation for young offenders.
“These people are very often juveniles,” he said. “Help them learn about the community, help them understand their neighbors. The best antidotes to intolerance are education and engagement. We’ve got to find ways to bring people together who don’t understand one another.”
Before the Monsey attack, two gunmen targeted a Jersey City kosher supermarket earlier this month, killing four people, including a police officer and two members of the Jewish community. New York has also seen a sharp rise in assaults on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn.
Greenblatt criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for staying mostly silent as the attacks have increased.
“The mayor of this city should have been all over this way before,” he said. “It took a stabbing in Jersey City, just over the line in New Jersey, because people have been suffering in Brooklyn for some time. It’s very frustrating that we don’t have greater energy around this.”
In an interview Monday, Greenblatt also called for a number of reforms in response to a recent uptick in anti-Semitic violence, including a larger allocation of federal funding to secure Jewish communities nationwide.
He endorsed a plan Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled Monday to spend $360 million on security grants to synagogues and other places of worship.
Also needed, Greenblatt added, was for local municipalities to direct more police resourcing to Jewish communal centers. “The lack of a police presence creates an environment where people think they can commit these kinds of crimes, because there’s no deterrence,” he said.
Greenblatt acknowledged the adverse consequences that ramped-up policing have often had on communities of color. Still, he asserted, there are methods that can secure Jews from anti-Semitic attacks without hurting other minorities.
“There’s an intelligent way to do this that is respectful of racial minorities and ensures that all religious groups are reasonably protected,” he said.
Where is this coming from?
Recent data from the ADL shows that anti-Semitic incidents are soaring in the United States. In 2018 alone, there were 1,879 recorded anti-Semitic episodes, according to the Jewish civil-rights organization, 13 percent of which were carried out by white supremacists. That includes the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, which killed 11 people, the deadliest ever anti-Semitic attack on American soil.
“I think we need to start by understanding the fact that something has changed,” Greeblatt said. “There’s no doubt that hate is on the rise in America in a way that we haven’t seen in recent memory.”
Greenblatt charged that US President Donald Trump has contributed to the emboldening of extremists, saying, “His pattern of rhetoric has certainly contributed to this atmosphere of intolerance.” But he added it was important to internalize that the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the United States was a result of many different sources.
“It’s fair to say that certain political agendas are driving this, but we also need to avoid the tendency to be reductionist — to try to squeeze everything into a particular pre-determined narrative,” he said.
“Anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years. It’s been around before we had political parties in this country. So I think we do ourselves a disservice by saying it’s only a function of one side or the other.”
While the Pittsburgh shooter was a supporter of the US president, the most recent attacks in Jersey City and Monsey were carried out by African Americans whose political beliefs are unknown. The Poway shooter, for his part, condemned Trump as a “pro-Zionist traitor.”
“The normalization of anti-Semitism… comes from all sides and has been weaponized by all sorts of people with political agendas,” Greenblatt said. That is largely due, he added, to “a diminution of the constraints that have kept discourse somewhat civil.”
The reason those constraints are dissipating, he added, were manifold — from the emergence of leaders who have enabled views that were once on the fringe to become mainstream, to the outgrowth of social media.
Social media platforms, he said, have given a forum for bigots to amplify noxious ideas and conspiracy theories.
“One of the reasons we are living in these times, in this kind of climate, is social media, which has normalized some of the most abnormal,” he said. “Social media has created extraordinary good in lots of ways, but you have anti-Semitic slander available with a swipe or a click. You couldn’t find it before in a newspaper, or on a bookstand, or on television. Now, it’s ubiquitous.”
Greenblatt called for stricter rules on social media platforms to weed out anti-Semitic and other racist, hateful content.
The main remedy, he asserted, was to kick users off who spew hateful rhetoric. He argued that posting anti-Semitic vitriol was tantamount to screaming anti-Jewish slurs at a coffee shop or a restaurant — in which case, the managers would make you leave.
“If you go to Facebook or YouTube or Twitter or any of these platforms, and you say terrible things about Jewish people, or Mexican people, or Muslim people, they should kick you out,” he said. “These are businesses. These are not free speech zones — they are governed by the same laws as Starbucks and the salad place.”