NEW YORK—Attorney General William Barr met with a small group of Jewish leaders in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to address the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks across the New York metropolitan area and how the Department of Justice (DOJ) is combating it.
Barr—who spoke to a group of about two dozen people at the Borough Park Jewish Community Council on Jan. 28—pledged to crack down on anti-Semitic crimes at the federal level, as he announced new measures for Jewish residents to report hate crimes. He said the DOJ will pursue anti-Semitic crimes more aggressively.
“This morning, I am putting out a written directive to all U.S. attorneys offices, and it will require each office to initiate, or to reinvigorate if they already have taken this action, their relationship and outreach to the Jewish communities in their district,” Barr said.
“As part of this, I want each U.S. attorney’s office to provide a point of contact for reporting hate crimes to their respective offices.”
Allen Fagin, executive vice president and chief professional officer of the Orthodox Union, was one of those invited to attend the meeting with Barr, which he said lasted roughly an hour and a half.
“Knowing that our government authorities are committed to dealing with these incidents as vigorously and comprehensively as they possibly can is itself an enormously important step and an important message,” Fagin told The Epoch Times in a telephone interview following the meeting.
He said Barr conveyed “loudly and unequivocally” from the highest levels of the administration that anti-Semitism won’t be tolerated in the country. Anti-Semitic incidents in New York have continued into the new year.
“It was important to the community sense of well-being … and provided an enormous level of comfort, for which there was great gratitude,” Fagin said.
Barr was accompanied by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and the head of the New York FBI office, Fagin said. The Orthodox Union, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in the nation, is headquartered in New York.
Leaders of the Jewish community told The Epoch Times previously that the increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the past few months was unprecedented. They said the violent nature and the prevalence of such hate crimes were deeply concerning.
New York City’s Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea has noted that anti-Semitic crimes jumped 21 percent last year. In December alone, at least 13 anti-Semitic attacks were reported in New York. In statements over the past few weeks, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have pledged to boost the police presence in Jewish communities across the city.
Some of the more violent incidents in recent weeks involved a 37-year-old suspect accused of stabbing five people who were celebrating Hanukkah at a rabbi’s home, and a shooting at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey that left two Hasidic Jews dead.
Fagin said he expects to see more federal prosecutions for hate crime activity than previously seen. He and other Jewish leaders—including the heads of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York and different heads of the Jewish Community Council—also spoke to Barr about a number of other steps they believe are important for combating anti-Semitism.
One of the suggestions offered to the attorney general is to increase security funding to protect institutions and houses of worship deemed to be at risk.
“[Barr] listened carefully to the suggestions that were being made. I think he took them all very, very seriously,” Fagin said. “It was a meaningful conversation.”
On Jan. 5, Cuomo said he released $45 million in funding to protect at-risk institutions. That money is made available on a statewide basis, through the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
At the meeting, Barr specifically brought up the case of a woman who allegedly assaulted three people in an apparent anti-Semitic attack in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He said that the federal government is now pressing charges against the woman.
The day after being freed without bail due to a new bail reform law, the woman was arrested again for a second alleged assault.
“I think it’s important for the federal government to plant this flag and to show zero tolerance, and this will not be an isolated case,” Barr said, referring to that case.
New York passed bail reform legislation in April 2019 that was estimated to cause at least a “40 percent reduction overall in the state’s pretrial jail population,” according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Under the new laws, some suspects in the recent anti-Semitic attacks have been quickly released without bail. In addition, judges can no longer set bail for many misdemeanors, including assaults without serious injury, and nonviolent felonies.
Jewish residents of Crown Heights told The Epoch Times that the new bail-reform laws are too lenient, and that this encourages attackers to re-offend. They also said that for the first time in recent memory, members of the Jewish community are becoming frustrated and inflamed over the uptick in anti-Semitism, which has become increasingly violent in nature.
They said members are increasingly talking about starting grassroots movements to defend the community and for Jewish residents to be armed, through concealed carry and other means, in response to perceived inaction by the government. At the same time, many in the Jewish community remain fearful, some having become too afraid to be out often in public.
In 2015, 5,850 hate crime incidents were reported to law enforcement agencies. In 2016, the number increased to 6,121, and in 2017—the bureau’s latest data report—there were a recorded 7,175 hate crime incidents.
The location of the meeting and the presence of senior law enforcement officials alongside Barr made it clear that Barr and the DOJ take the situation seriously, Fagin said, adding that local residents came away from the meeting feeling that Barr was “deeply committed both personally and on behalf of the government” in securing their safety.
“Statements alone are not going to necessarily solve the problem,” Fagin said. “But knowing that our government is committed to speaking out against hatred and making sure that those that participate in it are prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law is a very, very important beginning.”
Barr’s meeting took place a day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The day commemorates the genocide of European Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II. Barr said it was appropriate to have the meeting after the anniversary “to really commit that this department, this administration, is going to have zero tolerance for this kind of violence.”
“As I’ve said before, it strikes at the very core of what this country is about,” Barr said.
It’s not the first time the administration has addressed rising anti-Semitism. Last year in July, Barr gave a keynote speech at the DOJ’s summit on combating anti-Semitism, acknowledging that “increasingly we are seeing hate-inspired violence against the Jewish community perpetrated by individuals and groups.”
In response to the uptick in hate crimes against Jews, the broader New York community has come out to support the Jewish community. On Jan. 5, thousands of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge as part of a “No Hate, No Fear” rally in support of the Jewish community.
When Fagin was asked if he thought authorities were closer to figuring out the cause of the recent uptick in anti-Semitism, he responded: “That’s a very, very complicated question. It’s probably a 2,000-year-old question.”
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Jewish resident found swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti at her Lower East Side apartment building, in one of the latest alleged incidents.
As attacks of this nature have increased, some have called for more drastic measures to address the threat. In late December, four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers urged Cuomo to declare a state of emergency and to deploy the National Guard to patrol Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. They also asked Cuomo to appoint a “special prosecutor for purposes of investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence.”
Fagin and other Jewish leaders said they came away from the meeting feeling “more confident” that government leaders were trying to understand what was going on and that the incidents are having an impact, especially on the orthodox Jewish community. He noted that anti-Semitism is not a problem that is going to be eliminated overnight.
“We are shocked by every one of these incidents. We’re saddened by every one of these incidents, and they do continue,” Fagin said. “Our hope is that the day will come when these incidents are few and far between.”
Meanwhile, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a Jan. 29 address to Germany’s parliament that anti-Semitism is growing across Europe.
“Today, Europe is being haunted by the ghosts of the past—racial purity, nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism,” said Rivlin, according to The New York Times. “Ugly and extreme anti-Semitism is wafting over all of Europe, from the far-right to extreme left-wingers.”
A former Israeli justice minister also told The Epoch Times in a December message that she’s “deeply concerned” by the “rise in anti-Semitic attacks in New York and around the world.”
“All people of conscience must be outraged by the fact that 75 years after the Holocaust, Jews are once again being targeted at prayer and in the streets,” former Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked wrote.