It is disheartening to see that New York City’s Mayor Bill De Blasio still does not seem to appreciate the great harm he did last week when he called out the Jewish community after witnessing a large number of Orthodox Jews attending a funeral in the midst of the current pandemic. He tweeted:
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”
The next morning, he said, “[W]e have to understand what it means to hold a large gathering in New York City today. It means, unfortunately, that people who go to that gathering, some will be sick with that disease; That’s just a fact. We know this. Some will spread the disease to others.”
So he implicated an entire community in the misdeeds of a few and declared that those misdeeds could well lead to illness and death. If nothing else, could the mayor of a city with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel be unaware that the consensus of Jewish religious leaders has from the start of the crisis been to demand strict compliance with the safety rules?
This is dangerous stuff, but the mayor did not stop there. Rather than relying on the NYPD to be alert to unacceptably large assemblages they may encounter, the mayor ordered a proactive investigative blitz in primarily Jewish areas to root out violators.
So after initially telling the world that there is a Jewish dimension to the spread of the coronavirus by individual Jews, he hit upon a plan that could only serve to underscore his invidious notion of group liability, and in classic racial/ethnic profiling mode to boot. We would remind Hizzoner that the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language defines racial profiling as “the use of race or ethnicity grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime” – which seems a good fit for what the mayor did.
The mayor would doubtless react in horror to the charge that he is a racial profiler, but his reaction throughout to the criticism that has been directed his way allows for no other characterization. What exactly did he mean when he said of the Jewish community: “This is a community I love. This is a community I have spent a lot of time working with closely…. I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way. It was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love. For decades I’ve made it my business to stand up for the Jewish community, and people know that.”
“Tough love?” For whom? For the Jewish community? Why are his feelings for a community even in play here?
Nor is our current concern for the toxicity of any notion that “Jewishness” is somehow relevant to the spread of the coronavirus an idle one. These sort of stereotypical references have led to tragedies in the past. Further, last week in this space we warned of a looming scapegoating of Jewish nursing home owners over the unexpectedly large number of deaths of nursing home patients from the novel coronavirus.
Although it appears that the deaths are the result of a misguided NYS Department of Health directive prohibiting nursing homes from denying admission to patients suffering from the virus, the authorities are already seeking to deflect blame to the owners – and most owners interviewed in the media happen to be Jewish. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced an investigation by the state’s attorney general. And within the past few days, hundreds more previously unreported deaths have been added to the list.
Plainly the incentive to deflect criticism can be expected to grow, and Mayor De Blasio’s antics are not helpful. It’s time everyone became wary of allowing the coronavirus crisis to get a Jewish face.