It’s not really a plague, until you can blame the Jews. From the Black Death of the Middle Ages to the COVID-19 outbreak in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City, bigotry, ignorance, and raw hatred will inevitably find the Jews somehow responsible if not for the plague itself, as in Medieval times, but for its transmission.
The gathering of thousands of Haredi (strictly observant) Jews at the funeral for a beloved rabbi, Chaim Mertz, in violation of de Blasio’s shelter in place order, has unleashed a verbal assault from the mayor not just on the violators—most of whom were photographed wearing a face mask—but on the entire Jewish community. It is as if a thousand or so Haredim represented the one million Jews living in New York City.
At the very time of Rabbi Mertz’s funeral, the Navy’s Blue Angels were flying over New York City, and thousands gathered—also in violation of the mayor’s orders – to watch the show. No police were sent to disperse them. No threats were made.
As a percentage of American Jews, the total Haredi population is roughly equal to the number of incarcerated blacks as a percentage of African Americans. Yet, it would take some special combination of ignorance and bigotry to attack law-abiding African Americans for the behavior of those in the penal system.
Any politician evincing this toxic blend of ignorance and bigotry would find himself or herself showcased by a media that would trigger all the predatory instincts of a school of sharks smelling fresh blood in the water. Not so when it comes to Jews.
So, while the impact of the coronavirus on other ethnic groups has elicited expressions of sympathy and concern from the mayor, the effect on Jews has brought threats, invoking ancient tropes that would be more appropriate for a group of neo-Nazis or radical Muslims than for the mayor of the country’s largest city.
By picking and choosing how to react to the coronavirus, de Blasio displays his own latent sense of bigotry toward some and favoritism toward others. While threatening the Jewish community with police roundups—no anti-Semitic trope there—the mayor had earlier announced the city would provide some 500,000 free meals to impoverished Muslims celebrating Ramadan. No such meals were provided for needy Jews celebrating Passover or destitute Christians celebrating Easter.
The mayor’s threats toward the Jewish community were subsequently carried out by a raid on a synagogue where Haredim were studying Talmud, wearing face masks, and sitting six feet apart.
To date, no mosque has been raided.
To raid a mosque would immediately call up the ACLU, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, CAIR and a host of liberal and progressive organizations that form the mayor’s political base.
In contrast, the Haredim are viewed, even by many other Jews, as a deviant cult that is both a social and political embarrassment to the Jewish community. From their position on abortion to their embrace of conservative moral values that align with Christian fundamentalism, the Haredim – the most conspicuous of New York’s Jews – are truly a people apart, who are generally without political allies who will stand up for their rights.
Consequently, it was somewhat surprising that in this instance de Blasio crossed so far over the line that the larger Jewish community called him on it. Perhaps because his intemperate language identified all Jews with the Haredim, the community understood the degree of the threat.
De Blasio walked back his inflammatory statement in one of those non-apologies – disingenuous “clarifications” that are standard equipment in the cosmetic bag of politicians.
At the end of the day, however, the larger Jewish community will see this imbroglio as an attack on the Haredim and not on them. For the members of the liberal Jewish community, coming to grips with the anti-Semitism of the Left would impose on them a psychological dissonance that they would find difficult to resolve.
Maybe they should remember that first they came for the Haredim, and I was not a Haredi ….
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.