Missing the Context of De Blasio’s ‘Jewish Community’ Tweet – FAIR

Posted By on May 17, 2020

New York Mayor Bill de Blasios tweet (4/28/20) to the Jewish community.

Time for a Yiddish lesson: Shanda, meaning a shame or disgrace; a scandal.

Right-wing voices throughout the media thought they found one with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasios tweet (4/28/20) about a Hasidic funeral that violated Covid-19 social-distancing rules. But their shoddy coverage was the real shanda.

The background is this: Some Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, members of a strictly Orthodox religious movement, went forward with a public funeral for a rabbi that ended up not observing proper social-distancing rules. The mayor tweeted a defense of police actions that broke up the event, aiming it at the Jewish community, rather than just the specific sect who caused the trouble. It was terribly worded, and, out of context, it could be construed as insensitive to all Jews.

For the New York Times Bari Weiss (5/1/20), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted against lack of social distancing at a Hasidic funeral because he was hankering for a scapegoat.

The media went wild. Bari Weiss of the New York Times (5/1/20) called his comments inexcusable, and linked them to his supposed far-leftism. The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post (4/29/20) covered the anger in response to the tweet. Two writers at the Wall Street Journal (4/30/20) summed up the mayors tweet as by definition antisemitic. John Podhoretz in the New York Post (4/29/20) called it a new low for the mayor.

These themes flared up in the conservative media, too. In one particularly sanctimonious piece, Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review (4/29/20) said the tweet forced her to recall her visit to Auschwitz. Breitbart ran several articles on the matter.

Lets be clear: de Blasios tweet was boneheaded. And Jews were right to be worried. In a time of anti-government conspiracies, and when Asian Americans are already subjected to racist attacks because of the coronavirus Chinese origins, any blame aimed at the Jewish community for the crisis could further rile up tensions. The backlash de Blasio got from Jewish advocates wasnt unwarranted, but theres no evidence that this was a part of some abiding antipathy City Hall has toward New York Citys Jewish population.

De Blasio is from Brooklyn, formerly representing Park Slope in the City Council. Because Hasidic and other hard-core religious Jewish constituencies tend to vote in blocs, winning the favor of prominent rabbis and other community leaders is appealing for any New York City politician who eyes citywide office, and is especially critical for politicians from Brooklyn. (Brooklyns Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park are home to large religious Jewish communities.)

De Blasios dealings with Hasidic communities, thus, stem from political motivations that have helped secure him two terms at City Hall. If anything, de Blasio has been too cozy with these leaders, including on issues of public health, rather than dismissive or offensive. And his record shows this.

New York Posts John Podhoretz (4/29/20): You decided to seek your jollies by attacking Jews.

The New York Post (5/9/20) just recently uncovered that the mayor

was personally involved in a deal with Orthodox Jewish leaders to delay a long-awaited report on shoddy yeshivas in exchange for an extension of mayoral control of city schools.

The New York Times (4/15/19) had already documented last year how critics saw politics behind de Blasios slow response to a measles outbreak among Hasidic Jews. The papers editorial board (12/25/19) also criticized de Blasios mishandling of the yeshiva issue, saying at the time that city investigators couldnt determine whether Mayor de Blasio had personally authorized the delay, but concluded that the administration had interfered with the Education Departments investigation into the yeshivas.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (5/4/20), outlining de Blasios long connection to religious Jewish communities, reported:

While campaigning for mayor in 2013, de Blasio said he would look into easing regulations around metzitzah bpeh, a circumcision practice in which blood is sucked from a baby boys genitals that was linked to several cases of herpes in the newborns. The Bloomberg administration had required parents to sign a consent form notifying them of the risks involved in the practice, but de Blasio viewed that as onerous. The move earned him an endorsement from a faction of the Satmar Hasidic community.

And Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, hardly a left-wing organization, noted in the New York Daily News (5/4/20) that while de Blasio could have had better messaging in his response to Hasidic Jews, there was some important context here:

While a few in the Orthodox Jewish community continue to flaunt social distancing orders even Israeli Defense Forces have had to crack down on Orthodox gatherings the order to stay at home and practice social distancing applies to all, no exceptions. De Blasio should have known it is better to broaden his appeals to New Yorkers than lump all Jews together. Anyone violating the social distancing edict should be called to account.

National Reviews Kathryn Jean Lopez (4/29/20): When I saw the mayor of New Yorks tweet last night, all I could think about was my one visit to Auschwitz a few years ago.

For right-wing voices in the press, de Blasios institution of universal pre-K, his relatively progressive campaign for mayor in 2013 and his support for Bernie Sanders presidential bid make him a high-level symbol of the Democrats progressive flank. In this case, right-wing agitators in corporate media used de Blasios poorly worded tweet to advance the theory that, alongside the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and constant antisemitic hate from the Trumpian right, a liberal like de Blasio was similarly an enemy of the Jews. It was a ham-handed move to link liberalism with antisemitism. In the process, these journalists revealed that they knew little about the political relationships religious Jewish communities in New York City have with city government, which is city beat reporting 101.

But explaining the real political context would get in the way of drawing a false equivalency between an awkward tweet and the weaponized antisemitism of the far right.

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Missing the Context of De Blasio's 'Jewish Community' Tweet - FAIR

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