NEW YORK—Drawing the attention of passersby and inciting sidewalk debates, a group from the Jewish Defense Organization (JDO) staged a protest on East 85th Street on Sunday against a man they claim to be a Neo-Nazi.
The JDO shouted accusations at Michael Santomauro while he calmly looked on, sitting in a chair behind an informational display with posters that called for Israel to get out of the West Bank.
“Very un-American,” Santomauro said, as he made a video recording of the protesters, with his iPad. The NYPD monitored the event while people stopped and tried to grasp what was happening.
The JDO’s website states that it was founded in March 1982 in reaction to “the demise of the Jewish Defense League (JDL)” and that it is “based on principles first set forth by the Honorable Zev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism.”
Several members of the protest group declined to be interviewed. Inside a barricaded protest area, Mordechai Levy stated that Michael Santomauro is “the top Neo-Nazi in Manhattan.”
Santomauro, however, describes himself as a blogger and free-speech advocate. He said of his detractors: “They're misdirecting a lot of the public. They’re distorting the facts about what I do as a blogger and publisher, and they're trying to contaminate whatever perceptions people have about Holocaust revisionism.”
He has been criticized by the JDO as a “Holocaust-denier.” A pamphlet near Santomauro’s display does not dispute the Holocaust or that the Nazis singled out the Jewish people and subjected them to cruelty, but it does deny that the German state had a policy to exterminate Jewish people, and it disputes the numbers of deaths historically claimed.
Onlooker’s reactions ranged from confusion to support for both sides’ freedom of speech. “I don't know what's going on,” said Fabian, who recently moved to New York from Florida.
A local resident named Richard said: “I don't know who said it, but ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’” Another local resident said, “This is a peaceful demonstration. Whether you agree or disagree, there are not many countries where this can happen.”