Photo Credit: courtesy, Israel Consulate NYC
Acting Israel Consul-General in NYC, Israel Nitzan

Jews in New York, as elsewhere around the world, are facing an increasingly complex situation, says Israel’s Acting Consul-General to New York City, Israel Nitzan. “We face today two pandemics: one is COVID-19, and the other one is anti-Semitism,” he said, speaking in an exclusive interview with JewishPress.com via Zoom.

At least 100 public schools in New York City were closed Tuesday as New York State took control over the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions in the city’s “hot spots” due to the significant rise in cases within nine zip codes.

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The restrictions are taking place in many neighborhoods where a large Orthodox Jewish population resides, and where yeshivas had just reopened in September. Although most of the 200 non-public schools in the nine affected zip codes are Orthodox Jewish yeshivas, there are also seven Catholic schools among those affected.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said he is to meet with religious leaders Tuesday to discuss the issue; he also suggested that he would be willing to shut down synagogues and churches, too, if they aren’t following the rules, Fox News reported. “If you do not agree to follow the rules, then we will close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that,” Cuomo said.

The Acting Consul General has been monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic in the Big Apple very closely, he said, and maintaining tight control on the schedules and rotations of the staff at the Consulate to ensure the safest standards for everyone as the health situation challenges the staff diplomatically and operationally as well as healthwise.

New York is Nitzan’s fourth foreign post. He served at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, as Spokesperson from 2002 to 2005, returning in 2009 as the Deputy Chief of Mission until an attack during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution in which the Embassy was forced to evacuate. From 2012 until 2015, he served as the Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, where he spoke before the UN Security Council and oversaw Israeli political engagement policies within the UN system. He then became the Director of the Foreign Ministry’s UN Political Affairs Department in 2015, serving there until 2018 when he moved to the Consulate.

In addition to the health challenges faced by the Consulate, however, Nitzan noted that he and his staff have also had to come to grips with the re-emerging rise of anti-Semitism.

Nitzan said the way to address both problems is “by building coalitions and working together with our friends, to collaborate and to find ways in which we can address the problems together.”

But Nitzan also told JewishPress.com that the problem is one that affects more than any one Consulate, or even any one country.

(Ed. note: A Jewish student in Germany was badly hurt on Sunday (Oct. 4, 2020) in an attempted murder with anti-Semitic attempt by a 29-year-old man dressed in military attire, using a shovel as the murder weapon and carrying a hand-drawn swastika in his pocket. The 26-year-old student was attacked as he entered a synagogue in the northern city of Hamburg; he was hospitalized with severe head injuries.)

While saying he and his staff are “working with diverse community leaders, building coalitions and working together with our friends to collaborate and find ways in which we can together address this problem,” the acting consul general said there is a grey area involved; the issue of anti-Semitism reaches beyond the local mandate of the Consulate in New York City.

“I believe anti-Semitism has become part of Diaspora Jewish daily life and it’s not only a problem of the local community here in New York — it’s a problem that threatens the entire Jewish people,” Nitzan said.

“While we may not have the authority to act as a foreign diplomatic mission, we do have the moral and the historic responsibility to act as the representatives of the State of Israel. And we do speak up and we do call out anti-Semitism whenever and of course wherever we see it. We’re working with many friends.

“There are many good people here in New York and elsewhere, who are fighting this hatred of Jews,” he said.

“What we are seeing is alarming. I think conveying a clear message from the government of Israel, as the state that has the moral responsibility for the well-being of Jewish communities around the world, is something that is appreciated and accepted by many of the local leaders — and we’re working with them to find ways to address this problem.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.