NYC Bill de Blasio: ‘No Regrets’ for Calling Out Jewish Funeral; Sorry for Being ‘Hurtful’

Mayor Bill de Blasio / Facebook

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the media Wednesday morning that he was sorry if anyone was hurt by the way he called out the Jewish community over a large funeral in Brooklyn Tuesday, but he had “no regrets.”

De Blasio personally supervised police as they broke up a funeral procession for Rabbi Chaim Mertz of the Tola’as Yaakov synagogue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Religious Jewish communities, like others, have generally adhered to “social distancing” rules, even canceling daily services and barring guests from attending family Passover seders.

Religious Jewish communities have also suffered disproportionately in the coronavirus pandemic, owing largely to the fact that many daily events — including thrice-daily prayers — must traditionally be held in the presence of groups of ten or more men. (These have been suspended in most communities, as have other religious events observed in common settings.)

Other factors include the fact that many older Jews reside in nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the pandemic — and which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has required to accept all coronavirus patients.

Many Jewish funerals, including those of coronavirus victims, have been held over video livestream, with family members unable to bury their loved ones personally.

However, Rabbi Mertz was particularly revered in his community, and the synagogue attempted to plan a funeral — for which it apologized in a statement Wednesday.

De Blasio was outraged by the gathering, and singled out the “Jewish community” in a series of tweets:

Critics were outraged that the mayor singled out the “Jewish community.” But the funeral represented only one part of one religious community, not Jews as a whole or even the religious Jewish community in particular.

Many also pointed out that De Blasio and the police did nothing when crowds gathered on Tuesday to watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a flyover salute to first responders.

Some Jews are also particularly worried about the mayor’s remarks because extremist groups, at home and abroad, have used the coronavirus pandemic to scapegoat Jews. (The Palestinian Authority, for example, has accused Israel of deliberately spreading coronavirus among Palestinians, even as Israel delivers medical aid.) The false accusation of Jews spreading disease is at least as old as the Black Death in the fourteenth century.

In addition, the mayor is widely perceived among religious Jews to have done very little to combat a scourge of recent antisemitic attacks in the city, many by members of other minority groups — not far-right extremists.

De Blasio addressed the concern about his remarks in a press briefing about the coronavirus on Wednesday:

I spoke last night out of passion. I could not believe my eyes, Marcia. It was deeply deeply distressing. Again,  this is a community I love, this is a community I have spent a lot of time working with closely. And if you saw anger and frustration, you’re right. I spoke out of real distress that people’s lives were in danger before my eyes, and I was not going to tolerate it. So I regret if if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way. That was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love. It was anger and frustration at what I saw — and no, Marcia, it’s not happened other places, let’s be honest. This kind of gathering has happened in only a few places. And it cannot continue. It’s endangering the lives of people in the community. So to all those — and I understand politicians, everyone has said, “Oh, look,” you know, “this is like people gathering the park now.” No, it’s not like people gathering in the park. It was thousands of people. can we just have an honest conversation here? It was not acceptable. We will not tolerate it. I also will not tolerate any antisemitism — ever. And for decades I’ve made it my business to stand up for the Jewish community. and people know that. Won’t tolerate antisemitism, won’t allow it to grow in the city. We’ve fought it back many times. My message was to all communities, and that was written in black and white. But it was also to be clear that what I saw, I had not seen anywhere else. And I was trying to be honest about the fact that it is a problem that people have to come to grips with and deal with. Or else people in the community will die. And that’s not something to get somehow shunted aside. I understand the power of words, obviously. But I’m not going to let that power, that concern about words overcome the value of human life. We’re here to protect human beings and people were put in danger last night. Members of the Jewish community were putting each other in danger. They were putting our police officers in danger. Now, if I see it in any other committee, I’ll call that out equally. So again, if in my passion and in my emotion, I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that. That was not my intention. But I also want to be clear: I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying we’re going to deal with it very, very aggressively.

De Blasio has, in the past, attacked President Donald Trump for his rhetoric. In February, the mayor’s office said that Trump’s travel ban on China — credited with saving many lives — was “childish retribution based in racism.”

Last year, he cited the false claim that Trump called neo-Nazis “very fine people” (Trump said they should be “condemned totally”).

The synagogue responsible for a funeral Tuesday evening in Brooklyn, New York, that attracted crowds and was broken up by police — and by Mayor Bill de Blasio personally — has apologized to the public and to the Jewish community for what happened.

In a statement published by Yeshivah World News, the synagogue said: “We understand Mayor Bill de Blasio’s frustration and his speaking out against the gathering. As said, we thought that the procession will be in accordance with the rules, and we apologize that it turned out otherwise. It also hurts that this led to singling out the Jewish community, and for that we apologize to all Jewish people.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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