New York launches bias prevention unit as leaders vow to tackle antisemitism

Governor compares atmosphere in US to pre-war Europe in light of string of attacks, threats; mayor promises to step up punishments for perpetrators

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, December 12, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, December 12, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — State and national leaders in New York City on Monday vowed to crack down on antisemitism, comparing record rates of Jew-hatred in the US to persecution in the early days of the Nazi regime.

US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and US Senator Chuck Schumer spoke at Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue to announce new measures to combat antisemitism at an event hosted by the Orthodox Union.

Hochul announced a new statewide hate and bias prevention unit that will be embedded in the New York Division of Human Rights. The initiative will serve as an early warning system for hate threats. It will also convene stakeholders and work in education.

Hochul decried spiraling hate, saying, “We saw the effects of that in the last century,” and related a conversation she had with a Holocaust survivor who said the atmosphere in the US reminded her of pre-war Europe.

“You have to ask the question, ‘Where were the people, where were their voices?'” Hochul said. “Where was their spine, where was their courage? And we know what happened. We lost millions and millions of people.”

“We’ll be judged by generations from now on how we stood up to violence and hatred at synagogues and schools,” Hochul said. “This is not an issue for the Jewish community alone. You have reinforcements, you have friends, you have allies.”

Schumer, the Senate majority leader and highest-ranking Jewish elected political official in US history, said the support of government officials differentiated the US from Nazi Germany.

US Senator Chuck Schumer speaks at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, December 12, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“I know too well what can happen when a society turns its back on its Jewish citizens,” he said, describing how 30 members of his family were gunned down by Nazis during the Holocaust. “I feel the same dread, the same alarm that past generations have felt when antisemitism rears its ugly head.”

“The US, baruch Hashem, praise God, is not Nazi Germany. The roots of democracy and tolerance are much deeper here,” Schumer said. “The roots of tolerance go deep, I would argue deeper than the roots of bigotry in America, but again those roots of tolerance cry out for voices to strengthen them, to remember them to speak out in favor.”

Adams, who forged strong ties to Brooklyn Jewish communities while serving as the borough president, recently returned from an international antisemitism summit in Athens, Greece.

He vowed to “build out a pipeline” between the Black and Jewish communities which he said had disintegrated since the civil rights movement. In the coming weeks, he will announce initiatives for younger Black New Yorkers, he said.

Adams, who had a lengthy career in the NYPD before entering politics, also said he would step up punishments for hate crimes perpetrators. Some Jewish community leaders have decried lax bail laws that often let attackers free shortly after attacks.

Police stationed outside a synagogue after threats to the Jewish community, in New York City, November 4, 2022. (Luke Tress/ Times of Israel)

“There should be no plea bargain rule. If you are arrested for hate crimes, if you assault someone because they’re Jewish, because they’re African American, because they wear a hijab,” he said, “then you should not have that assault downgraded to harassment.”

“I don’t believe we have one person who was arrested for a hate crime who has served time in jail. That is unacceptable,” Adams said to applause. “It’s time for us to focus our attention on the innocent people of this city and stop being a safe haven for those who participate in criminal behavior.

He also denounced the normalization of hate speech and described visiting death camps in Europe.

“Seeing this devastation that started with just words and turned into actions, if we say ‘never again,’ ‘never again’ cannot be at the completion of the task, it must be at the beginning,” he said. “We’re at that moment right now.”

Mayorkas, a Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, said US President Joe Biden will request increased funding for hate crimes prevention next year.

US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, December 12, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

He also said the department will work with prosecutors and other state legal officials to punish those who commit hate crimes.

“We will hold perpetrators of targeted violence of whatever scale accountable,” he said. “There is no such thing as a small act of antisemitism, an act of hate.”

“A swastika painted on a college campus elevator,” he said, “does not victimize only those who ride that elevator.”

“It reverberates throughout our community, our country, and even the world. It spreads fear and is without borders. We must respond accordingly,” he said.

The NYPD reported 45 antisemitic hate crimes in the city last month, accounting for 60 percent of all bias incidents in the city.

The tally for November amounts to an antisemitic hate crime in the five boroughs every 16 hours, on average. Jewish security groups have said that many attacks likely go unreported.

The NYPD has confirmed 195 anti-Jewish hate crimes between January 1 and September 30, far more than against any other group. Jews are consistently targeted more than other minorities in the city in both absolute and per capita terms.

The incidents range from assault to verbal harassment, property damage, and antisemitic graffiti.

In the most high-profile incident last month, two men were arrested after threatening to “shoot up a synagogue.” Police seized weapons and a Nazi armband from the suspects and have increased security at synagogues in response. One of the suspects has been released on bail.

The Jewish community in New York is the largest worldwide outside of Israel.

The rise in hate crimes in New York corresponds with nationwide trends. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the country last year, a 34% increase from the previous year, and the highest since it began tracking in 1979. Some of the increase is due to different and improved reporting methods.

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