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Flushing lawmakers call for investigation into anti-Semitic threats

Police are investigating the recent toppling of tombstones in a Jewish cementery in Philadelphia.
Photo by Michael Bryant/AP
By Gina Martinez

Hate is on the rise in New York City, according to police.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill held their monthly update on citywide crime at the 114th Precinct in Astoria on Wednesday. While this February is the safest the city has had in over 20 years, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said hate crimes are on the rise in the city, driven by a spike in anti-Semitic crimes. According to statistics, there were 35 reported anti-Semitic hate crimes in January and February of this year compared to 18 in the same time period last year, a 55 percent increase. These hate crimes include graffiti and threatening calls to Jewish community centers.

In one case, a swastika was drawn in wet cement on the pavement outside a home in Kew Gardens. The offending symbol was later covered up.

Last week two Flushing lawmakers called for an investigation into recent anti-Semitic threats. State Assembly members Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) and Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) wrote a letter to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and John Melville, commissioner of New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, urging them to take swift action to address the rise in hate crimes and threats against the Jewish community.

According to the JCC Association of North America, in 2017 alone there have been 68 incidents targeting 53 Jewish Community Centers in 26 states.

In recent weeks hundreds of Jewish tombstones in St. Louis and Philadelphia have been toppled. President Donald Trump has mostly remained silent on the rise of hate crimes and was criticized for failing to mention Jews in a statement about Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The threats made against Jewish Community Centers are unacceptable and have no place in our communities,” Rozic said. “My thoughts go out to those directly affected by these malicious acts. We need aggressive action to combat hate speech and hate crimes in our state.”

Simanowitz and Rozic called on the sate to investigate the threats and create legislature to deter threats. The Assembly members asked the state to work with local law enforcement to counter bias and find effective mechanisms to educate and protect communities against hate.

“We write to express our deep concern regarding the recent spate of anonymous bomb threats made via telephone against Jewish community centers across New York.” the letter said. “We urge your offices to swiftly assess the situation and advise us on what specific steps are being taken to deter such threats, to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of these threats for violations of state laws, and to help JCCs enhance security measures in the event that an individual or group seeks to act upon these threats.”

The letter cited three fatal attacks at Jewish centers in the last two decades, including an attack in 2014 at a Kansas center, a 2006 attack at the Jewish Federation of Seattle, and the 1999 attack at a California Jewish center.

“These phone calls have an immediate emotional impact, of course, but they also have an economic impact,” the letter continued. “JCCs provide a range of educational and community services for Jewish and non-Jewish individuals and families, with a particular focus on children and youth. The individuals who make these calls no doubt recognize that bomb threats, particularly when repeated, can compromise and even destroy a JCC’s financial future.”

In responce to the letter the Attorney Generals office released a statement telling the Assemblymembers that investigations of these threats fall under local law enforcement and the FBI.

“As the AG has said repeatedly: threats against JCCs and other Jewish institutions have no place in New York or anywhere — and threats against Jews, or any religious group, cannot be taken lightly,” Amy Spitalnick, Press Secretary for the New York Attorney General, said in a statement. “As the Assemblymembers should know, investigation and prosecution of these cases fall within the jurisdiction of local law enforcement and the FBI. Last year, when the number of hate crimes began to increase, AG Schneiderman issued extensive guidance to provide local law enforcement with the tools and information they need to identify, investigate, and prosecute these crimes. The AG has and will continue to fight back against anti-Semitic attacks, even as he’s faced many himself, and against all bias crimes.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) is also speaking out. Meng sent a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to fully restore the “Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism” section of the State Department website. Meng asked that the information on the page be made to closely resemble its predecessor, which featured an anti-Semitism fact sheet, past issues of the anti-Semitism Monitor and excerpts on anti-Semitism from past Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

“With anti-Semitic incidents on the rise in the U.S. and around the world, it is critical that valuable resources like these continue to be fully posted on the State Department’s website,” Meng said. “I eagerly await the secretary’s reply and hope that this page will be completely restored soon.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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