Recent violence has mobilized New Yorkers to stand with the Jewish community against anti-Semitism. One of the most imposing displays of this was the “No Hate, No Fear” demonstration on January 5, when more than 10,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest a surge in hate crimes in the New York-New Jersey area, including a rampage a week earlier by a machete-wielding attacker at a Hanukkah celebration.
The marchers included New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who announced a $45-million increase in the state’s expenditure on programs aimed at protecting faith-based groups and private schools from hate crimes.
“I’m heartened to see this amazing show of support and solidarity,” Cuomo said as he kicked off the march. “Literally over 10,000 people have shown up to show support and love for the Jewish community, and that’s New York at her best.”
On December 28, the seventh day of the Jewish Hanukkah festival, a man wearing a scarf over his face walked into the home of Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg, next to a synagogue in Monsey, an enclave of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews about 35 miles from New York City. The intruder drew a machete and said, “No one is going anywhere.”
He then stabbed five members of the Hasidic congregation before being chased away by a man who threw a coat rack, a table and a chair at him. Three weeks later, one victim remains hospitalized in a coma. The attacker, identified as Grafton E. Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, New York, was arrested two hours after he fled the scene in a car.
“Literally over 10,000 people have shown up to show support and love for the Jewish community, and that’s New York at her best.”—New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to five hate-crime charges. Prosecutors have accused him of obstructing the free exercise of religion by attempting to commit murder and cited written references that Thomas allegedly made to “Hitler and Nazi culture” in journals.
Governor Cuomo called the attack an act of domestic terrorism. The incident followed the fatal shootings on December 10 of three civilians and one police officer at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two suspects in the crime were killed by police after a prolonged standoff in the store.
Even before the Hanukkah rampage, police had stepped up patrols in Brooklyn after the Hate Crimes Task Force of the New York Police Department (NYPD) began investigating what it referred to as eight “alarming” anti-Semitic incidents since December 13.
The New York Times reported that NYPD data shows anti-Semitic hate crime complaints shot up by 18 percent in 2019. The department received 214 anti-Semitic hate-crime complaints as of December 29—a 32-percent increase over the same period in 2018.
On December 17, a subcommittee of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) issued a report titled “Preventing Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities.” The 62-page document was in response to a May 20, 2019, letter from the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) directing the HSAC to form the subcommittee so that faith-based communities can be protected against extremist violence.
The report observed that “Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) largely do not have consistent access to timely actionable information and assessments related to domestic violence movements and trends, and how those threats affect their houses of worship and local communities.” FBOs, the report added, “more frequently build positive relationships with local law enforcement, while mistrust of Federal personnel and lack of government outreach often hinder FBO engagement with Federal entities.”
The subcommittee’s report outlined a total of seven findings and recommendations aimed at improving coordination between DHS and FBOs. Key recommendations including that:
• DHS establish a “central point of contact” for matters associated with the security of FBOs.
• DHS take the lead, along with state and local officials, to formulate a “consistent approach to preparing and training FBOs for the security of their communities.”
• DHS determine and enhance the role of Public Security Advisors, a set of federal positions that “do not always reach out to coordinate with faith-based organizations and respond only when requested.”
• “Congress, working with DHS and the Department of Justice, encourage cooperation between federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement to monitor, understand, investigate, and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism through intelligence sharing requirements. Congress to work with DHS and DOJ to pass a statute defining such acts and providing funds for monitoring the acts.”
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