Hardly a week passes now without a Jew being beaten, harassed, or cursed in Brooklyn. The police and mayor say they’re handling the situation, yet the wave of anti-Jewish attacks continues unabated. Week after week. Incident after incident. Without end in sight.
Can the police do nothing? Is the mayor powerless? Should the Jewish community double the size of its self-defense organizations? Dov Hikind addressed these questions and more in a recent interview with The Jewish Press. Hikind served in the New York State Assembly for 35 years and, since his retirement, has founded a new organization, Americans Against Antisemitism.
The Jewish Press: If these recent attacks had been committed against blacks or women or transgenders, it would be a national news story. Why are attacks against chassidic Jews treated differently?
Hikind: You know, the other week I had a 40-minute conversation with Mayor de Blasio about [these anti-Semitic crimes], and I said to him, “If any other group in this city were under attack the way we’ve been under attack, the city would be shut down and politicians would be lining up to demand action.”
Just imagine if it were someone with a beard and peyos attacking someone in the black community.
What do you propose the city do?
One of the things I’ve been calling for is for the mayor to declare a state of emergency. What does that mean? It means you bring all the resources of government – different commissioners and different agencies – and they sit down, they look at everything, and they make a plan.
That’s what needs to be done with anti-Semitism. If the mayor were to do this, automatically there would be a recognition on the part of the Jewish community that the mayor gets it; he’s taking it seriously. Because right now what happens is everybody condemns anti-Semitism, and then we move on to the next incident – which everybody condemns, and then we move on to the next one.
The point isn’t to solve the problem. There will always be anti-Semitism. We know that. The point is to try to make a dent.
What was the mayor’s reaction to your proposal?
He admitted multiple times that the city doesn’t have a solution. I told him, “The first thing we have to do is recognize the problem. How do you solve a problem if you don’t even recognize where it’s coming from?”
In so many of the attacks against Jews, we can identify the attacker because there’s video footage, thank G-d. And it so happens that many of the perpetrators are from the African American community. Why aren’t we talking about this? Why are so many young black people attacking Jews? Is anybody asking that question? Maybe we should bring in the clergy to figure out why there’s so much hate.
How did de Blasio respond?
Look, he’s trying to be careful, but he can’t deny it. Nobody in the world can deny what you see in video surveillance. There’s a lot more that can be done if we weren’t overly PC. That’s part of the problem.
Right now, I’m actually working on putting together a group of Jewish leaders and black clergymen. Let’s close the door, sit at the table, and have everyone speak their heart out. Maybe we’ll learn something; maybe something will come up.
What else did you say to de Blasio during your conversation?
The mayor said to me, “Tell me how to solve the problem.” I told him, “If I could tell you that, I would win the Nobel Prize.”
There are no simple solutions, but we can do a lot more. I told the mayor point blank, “With all due respect, no one in this city thinks this administration is really tackling this problem. There’s no sense that the mayor’s on top of it.”
How many communities has the mayor visited? How many victims has the mayor visited? The mayor is the leader of New York, and this city – one of the most important cities in the world – is now in a situation of unprecedented anti-Semitism based on [NYPD] statistics. The mayor’s the one who sets the tone. Where is he? Where is the governor? What’s he doing?
Here’s another problem: The few people who have been arrested for these acts of anti-Semitism – what’s happened with them? My impression is very little because there’s a new philosophy in the city of New York that when young people commit certain acts – they didn’t kill anybody; they just terrorized somebody – we don’t want to ruin their life even though they may be ruining other people’s lives. The whole philosophy now is to give people a slap on the wrist.
What else do you propose be done?
You know what I’d like to see? The Jewish elected officials are all wonderful – and I have a relationship with all of them – but I wish they would create a caucus. There’s a caucus of Jews in the New York City Council, but it’s a joke. What are they doing? Chaim Deutsch is wonderful, but where’s his Jewish caucus? They’re missing in action. You know why? Because they can’t agree because some of them are very liberal and progressive.
So let Simcha Felder, Kalman Yeger, Simcha Eichenstein, and Chaim Deutsch – at least the four of them – let them get involved in a very serious way. They’re our voices. Have you seen a press conference of all four of them together demanding action?
But you said speech alone doesn’t cut it. So what would you like them to do? Pressure the mayor more?
Yes, absolutely. Look, the mayor is not sure what to do. I understand that. But the point is that we have leaders. They have ideas for the environment. They have ideas for everything in the world, right? How about this issue?
We have 20 people – or whatever the number is these days – running for president of the United States. Have they seriously addressed the issue of anti-Semitism? If it were attacks upon blacks or transgenders, they’d be pushing each other out of the way to get to the microphone to talk about it and come up with plans.
By the way, so many of the attacks in New York have happened in three neighborhoods: Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Boro Park. Are you telling me that the police department can’t come up with a plan in the next month or two for these three neighborhoods?
You know, when something terrible happens, what do we usually hear from the city? That they’re going to have more police protection this weekend – and that’s it. Next weekend is another story. How about this idea? Since it is only in three communities, why not put in the resources and do what the police are capable of doing?
Imagine police dressed as chassidim in these three neighborhoods walking around. But I have to advise them? They don’t know what to do?
Some people are suggesting that we give up on the police and, instead, strengthen our own security organizations like Shomrim. Do you agree? Should we just give up on the police and move on?
I don’t think the police are the problem. I think they’re not being given enough support. Look what’s going on in this city. Just the other weekend, you had a rally with young people jumping the subway turnstiles as part of a demonstration against the police. We’ve also seen the picture of police officers being doused with buckets of water.
Was there much of a reaction on the part of elected officials in New York City? What could the average Jewish Press reader do?
Well, I would urge people to join American Against Antisemitism. We’ve only been around for 7-8 months, but we’ve done so many good things.
I wish we had the resources of some of the Jewish organizations out there. But we now have almost three people working full time and we’re building. We’re getting tremendous reactions. I’ve been interviewed on TV and radio. We have meetings with business people who want to get involved.
Look, one of the things about me is I don’t mince words. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican – if you hate Jews or you’re a hater, I’m going to go after you.
So let people reach out to us. They can be involved. It’s not about “Am I going to solve the problem?” or “Are you going to solve the problem?” Everyone needs to be involved. Everyone has to do their part. The idea of being silent and doing nothing – that’s definitely not the answer.
Are you fearful that we may be heading toward the New York of the 1970s and ‘80s?
Crime was out of control in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Things were terrible. People were leaving the city. But the difference between then and now is that people now are being attacked. They’re not being robbed. Nobody’s looking for your watch, wallet, or phone. It’s just “Beat up on a Jew.” So it’s different.
What we have going on now is different from anything that I saw in my 36 years in the Assembly and my 10-plus years in the JDL etc. There were always problems, but something ongoing like this is unprecedented.