Lack of Civility, New Bail Laws Contribute to Rise of Anti-Semitism: Senior Rabbi

December 30, 2019 Updated: December 30, 2019
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NEW YORK—The rise of anti-Semitic acts of violence—the most recent being the stabbing of five at a rabbi’s home—is a “disease” that has spread based on an “intolerance for difference” according to a senior rabbi, who also cast some of the blame on new bail reform laws.

Since Dec. 8, there have been 13 anti-Semitic acts of violence, including the latest, the Dec. 28 attack that occurred in the Orthodox Jewish community of Monsey, New York, during Hanukkah.

“We can’t believe that it’s happening again after we just suffered through several attacks in New York City,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president at the New York Board of Rabbis, told The Epoch Times.

“This disease has spread into too many places and too many people,” he said. 

The suspect, 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, is facing five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries. Thomas was arrested in New York City within hours of the stabbing rampage.

Authorities said on Dec. 30 they found handwritten journals containing references to Jews and anti-Semitism in Thomas’s home.

Potasnik said the perpetrator of the attack must have a “very sick and sadistic mind” to do such things.   

“Everybody’s asking as to why and why now. I would say firstly, in our country, there is a lack of civility or lack of respect for people deemed different. Today, a person that attacks me will attack you tomorrow,” he said. “This hatred starts with Jews very often but doesn’t stop with them.” 

“There is intolerance for difference, and unfortunately, the Jews have been on the front lines of these attacks throughout history,” he said. “We are often depicted as being on the other side, we walk on a different path than everybody else, and because of that, we are subjected to this hatred that doesn’t go away.” 

On Dec. 27, the New York City Police Department stated that it would step up patrols in heavily Jewish neighborhoods in the borough of Brooklyn after the city saw at least eight anti-Semitic incidents in two weeks.

Bail Reform Legislation

New York passed a bail reform law in April 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. Due to the new laws, some of the perpetrators in the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks have been quickly released.

In one recent case, Tiffany Harris, a woman accused of slapping three people in an apparent anti-Semitic attack during Hanukkah, was charged with attempted assault as a hate crime. Harris was released without bail after being arraigned, according to court records.

On Dec. 29, just a day after her release, Harris was arrested again for attacking a 35-year-old woman in what police described as a random attack, according to the New York Daily News.

“We’ve seen many released. … If you assault somebody through a crime you should have to suffer some kind of punishment,” Potasnik said. “You should not be released immediately so that you’re free to do it again.” 

The new legislation needs to be reexamined to ensure there are no loopholes to allow this kind of behavior, according to Potasnik.

I don’t think that was the purpose of the legislation,” he said, referring to the quick catch and release of perpetrators. “I understand they want equality, but equality is also something that should protect me as a Jew.” 

Harris was released without bail even though the new legislation doesn’t officially go into effect until January 2020.

Standing Together

Potasnik said he attended a meeting on Dec. 29 with Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City’s Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea, and other leaders. He said they’re very fortunate to have the support of law enforcement, noting that “every congregation I know has a relationship with the local precinct.” 

“Every congregation has a precinct that has a security plan that has been approved by the local precinct,” he said. 

Potasnik said it was heartening to look around and see so many people from the interfaith community and people of different faiths who came to say, “We are all together on this.”

“Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem. It’s a human problem that requires all of us to respond collectively,” he said. “I heard the word ‘together’ more times yesterday than I’ve heard in a long time.” 

The Jewish community isn’t going to relinquish or hide its faith because of the attacks, Potasnik said. He added that they don’t gain safety or respect by hiding who they are. 

“Running away doesn’t guarantee your safety. We have faith in those who stand with us. We’ll continue to be public Jews—proud and public Jews,” he said. “We are not going to camouflage our identity, because you know the person who hates you will find out who you are and hurt you again.

“I’m very hopeful in spite of what’s happening,” he said. “I’m hopeful we will get through this because, ultimately, I think decency triumphs over evil, and that’s only true when people stand together.” 

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