Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 2, 2020

Bill de Blasio, the Hasidim, and COVID-19

Filed under: anti-Semitism,COVID-19,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 5:48 pm

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio was pilloried for being anti-Semitic. On April 28, when hundreds of Hasidic Jews took part in a funeral procession for their rabbi, de Blasio rushed to the scene in Brooklyn to oversee the police trying to disperse the crowd. Some of the Hasidim were wearing masks but others were not. Even if everyone was wearing a mask, the procession would be in violation of ordinances City Hall had approved to implement social distancing.

That evening de Blasio tweeted about the incident:

By simply referring to the “Jewish community”, he became the moral equivalent of Bernie Sanders, who became persona non grata in Hasidic circles for having “done more to legitimize antisemitism than any Democratic presidential candidate in recent memory.” That characterization appeared in the March 3, 2020 Algemeiner Journal, a newspaper marketed to the orthodox Jewish community. Like most rightwing Jews, the editors made an amalgam between being pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic.

Like any number of people over the past decade who use Twitter, de Blasio got caught in the unfortunate position of simplifying a complex situation. By referring to the “Jewish community”, he was supposedly judging an entire ethnic group. If I were Mayor, I might have tweeted something much more like this:

Last night there was a funeral procession for Rabbi Chaim Mertz who died from COVID-19. Over a thousand of his followers violated social distancing guidelines that might have kept him alive in the first place. The orthodox community has to do a better job of protecting itself.

One can understand the mayor’s frustration. Ever since the pandemic hit New York, some Hasidic sects have been as defiant of social distancing as the AstroTurf mobs funded by Charles Koch. On March 17th, the NY Times reported on “Defying Virus Rules, Large Hasidic Jewish Weddings Held in Brooklyn”. After the Fire Department busted the wedding, that did not prevent people from continuing to celebrate on the street outside.

A day later Pro Publica published an article titled “As Coronavirus Cases Rise, Members of Some Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Communities Continue to Congregate”. Even when the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect was closed at 770 Eastern Parkway, “a large group of men — numbering perhaps over 100 — had simply moved their prayers from inside the building to outside of it, crowding together.”

In a perceptive article on how Hasidic neighborhoods became the epicenter within a pandemic epicenter, the NY Times published an article on April 21 that offered an explanation of why there is a defiance of city ordinances. Basically, the Hasidic sects view the state itself as an infringement on its rights as a separate social entity that operates on its own legal codes. The Times put it this way:

That sense of defiance has been evident in neighborhoods like Borough Park and South Williamsburg, where some businesses and religious bathhouses have displayed signs written in Yiddish — a language not widely spoken outside the Hasidic community — informing patrons of hours and prices or instructing them to use an entrance not visible from the street.

Beyond this insular attitude, there is also a failure to come to terms with medical science. During a measles epidemic last year, the Hasidic sects were a bastion of resistance to vaccinations. A Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi William Handler told Vox that the MMR vaccine used to guard against measles, mumps and rubella caused autism. He viewed parents who “placate the gods of vaccination” are engaging in “child sacrifice.” As is the case with COVID-19, orthodox Jewish children suffered because of adult inaction.

The irony in all this is that Bill de Blasio has been a long-time ally of the most rightwing and religiously obscurantist segments of the “Jewish community”. In 2013, after he announced his campaign for mayor, I blogged about these ties:

The first sign that de Blasio was traveling down a familiar road was his appearances on State Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s radio show on WMCA on Saturday night when he ran for City Council from the 39th District in 2001, that includes Borough Park, an area that contains many orthodox Jews who vote as a bloc and take their cues from Hikind. Hikind is one of the biggest scumbags in the Democratic Party in N.Y. who leaves a trail of slime going back to his days as a follower of Meir Kahane, an openly fascist leader of the Jewish Defense League.

Hikind went on to endorse de Blasio for Public Advocate in 2009 and now endorses him along with William Thomson in the DP mayor primary. In return, de Blasio has endorsed Hikind’s favorites, including Joe Lazar who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the 39th District in 2010.

You can tell how important Borough Park votes are for de Blasio based on the stance he took on the BDS controversy at Brooklyn College early this year. In a McCarthyite campaign orchestrated by Dov Hikind, the school came under pressure to include a pro-Israel speaker. This was de Blasio’s statement:

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is inflammatory, dangerous and utterly out of step with the values of New Yorkers. An economic boycott represents a direct threat to the State of Israel–that’s something we need to oppose in all its forms. No one seriously interested in bringing peace, security and tolerance to the Middle East should be taken in by this event.

This is not the first time that de Blasio has positioned himself as a “friend of Israel”. Raillan Brooks, a blogger at the Village Voice, revealed that de Blasio was opposed to Saudi airplanes landing at local airports:

Here’s a little morsel of insanity for your Tuesday morning: New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is trying to yank Saudi Arabian Airlines’ right to land at U.S. airports over its policy of not allowing Israeli citizens to board, starting with JFK. The director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Khalid Al-Melhem, shot back at de Blasio, insisting that it is merely the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries that is behind the policy. Al-Melhem’s claim that discrimination isn’t behind the ban is bullshit, but so is de Blasio’s outrage.

Brooks then posed the question: “Why is coverage of de Blasio so light on skepticism? Because the man has spent a career building a name for himself as a Defender of the Downtrodden, a bonny shroud for cold political calculus.”

In office, de Blasio bent over backwards to make sure that the medieval social norms of the Brooklyn were honored. Among the most disgusting concessions he made was easing the ban on metzitzah b’peh, or oral suction, adopted by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg. This is a controversial circumcision ritual that has been linked to herpes infections in infants.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, parents had to sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves the circumciser using his mouth to suck blood away from the incision on a boy’s penis. Orthodox rabbis called the consent requirement an infringement on their religious rights. By suspending it, de Blasio got the thumbs up from Rabbi David Zweibel, who stated, “It is to Mayor de Blasio’s eternal credit that he recognized how profoundly offensive the regulation was to our community.”

Weighing in for liberal Zionist opinion, the NY Times’s Bari Weiss took de Blasio to task in a meretricious article titled “Bill de Blasio Finds His Scapegoat”. Trying to speak out of both sides of her mouth, she reminded her readers that the mayor was a man “whose political instinct drove him to quote Che Guevara at a Miami union rally.” For me, that’s reason enough to tip my hat to Bill for having the balls to tell an audience the truth, even if it defied political expediency—something Ms. Weiss obviously doesn’t get.

She also biffed the Chapo Trap House, who—as far as I can tell—never got mentioned once in a NY Times op-ed. They aren’t Jacobin, after all. She wrote:

“Hassids own so much,” Felix Biederman, a co-host of the popular left-wing “Chapo Trap House” podcast, tweeted on Thursday. “Just zero regard for the rest of humanity or any idea of modernity and they’re also like yeah we need to live in the middle of this city for whatever reason.”

I guess all you can say is that Biederman is an equal-opportunity offender, just like Howard Stern. That’s how these people make $60,000 a month, after all. I’ve seen more offensive references on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and funnier as well.

Once she got finished with the left, Weiss made a point that was much sharper than de Blasio’s tweet:

“The failure of leadership here cannot be overstated,” said Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, a writer and the wife of an Orthodox rabbi, about those who encouraged the funeral. “This is almost reminiscent of the stories of Hasidic rebbes leaving their flocks during the Holocaust. Only this time, followers will be able to know exactly how they were abandoned and by whom, because now this information is public.”

Of course, nobody will bash Bari Weiss for referring to someone comparing these Brooklyn medieval leaders to Hasidic rabbis leaving their flocks during the Holocaust. She has too many brownie points for opposing BDS, disparaging Bernie Sanders as anti-Semitic, etc. I do appreciate her brief refence to rabbis “leaving their flocks”, however. That’s something worth following up on.

3 Comments »

  1. How about the city cutting off funding of various sorts to these bastards. They feel entitled to funds coming from “dumb goyim” and apostate Jews like yrs truly. Many of the men don’t work, dedicating their lives to ‘study’ and baby production on everyone else’s dime. If they want to combat anti-Semitism, let them not threaten, through their behavior, infecting the rest of us.

    Louis is correct that de Blazio could have expressed himself more precisely, but to accuse him of anti-Semitism is absurd. Those making the claim are dedicated to interpreting even innocuous remarks as hostile. They’re part of what I think of as the “ so in other words” brigade as in “There’s quite a bit of sexism in country X.” “ So in other words there’s no sexism in the US.”

    Men performing brises are again allowed to use their mouths on infant penises. Wonderful. And to object is anti-Semitic
    naturally. And is taxpayer money used to pay the salaries of the suckers?

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — May 2, 2020 @ 7:04 pm

  2. The quote of the Biederman tweet by Weiss is even more strange because it’s neither offensive nor anti-semtic. Although, Weiss is later trying to insinuate both?

    My only guess is she seemed to have misunderstood the slang use of “owns” which is common vernacular of the younger generation (which is also Weiss’s!). This would be funny if it wasn’t sad that a Times opinion writer managed such a mistake.

    Comment by Aaron — May 4, 2020 @ 5:24 am

  3. Given the obvious, substantial and proven harms caused by failure to vaccinate children, and the equally obvious violation of human rights incurred by male or female genital mutilation of children, it is strange that there is so little stigma attached to the perpetrators compared to people who wantonly abuse children in other ways. Those people usually go to prison, lose their livelihoods, are abandoned by friends and family and never recover.

    Comment by srhope1989outlookcom — May 7, 2020 @ 2:58 pm


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