Rockland County, NY GOP removes video after uproar
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The Republican Party in a suburban New York county removed a video from its Facebook page Thursday that warned of a “takeover” of the county by the Hasidic Jewish community.
The video was widely condemned by Democrats, including the governor and the state attorney general, who called for Rockland GOP Chairman Lawrence Garvey to remove the video, which was posted Wednesday.
“To clearly state that members of the Jewish community are a threat to families and our safety and that they must be stopped is despicable and completely unacceptable,” state Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Attacking those who are different than we are only breeds hate and makes us weaker.”
The caption for the video said: “The stakes have never been higher. The future of our County, our communities, and our homes hangs in the balance of this year.”
In Ramapo, a community in Rockland County, there were few problems between Ramapo’s small ultra-religious Jewish communities and the gentiles and other Jews who made up the bulk of the town’s population a generation ago.
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As the ultra-religious community has grown, Ramapo has become a flash point in a continuing conflict over what it means to live in the suburbs. The idyllic version of leafy bedroom communities close to New York City – with groomed lawns and white picket fences – is being replaced by chaotic, high-density sprawl that many find overwhelming and unsafe.
According to the New York Times, citing New York state numbers, Rockland County’s ultra-Orthodox community has become a significant voting bloc as they make up 31% of the county’s population.
In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the video disturbing, disgusting and an example of the “politics of division and hate permeating the nation.”
“There is no excuse for anti-Semitism masquerading as concerns over zoning or development,” Cuomo said. “While this video has since been removed, its impact will still be felt by the members of the Jewish community targeted by their own neighbors.”
Garvey posted a statement Thursday morning, after taking down the video, that defended the substance of the video. It said, in part: “The people of Rockland have become desperate for attention to the problems facing our communities and many live every day with the threat of losing their homes and neighborhoods.
“Anyone who dares speak up about overdevelopment, corruption or education is immediately labeled as anti-Semitic without any concern for facts or without any idea of the true issues at hand.”
Intense reaction to the video caused County Executive Ed Day to cancel a news conference Thursday morning at which he planned to call for the county to take over building inspections and code enforcement in Ramapo and Spring Valley.
In a statement before the video was taken down, Day said “the content of the video is factual, the tone and undercurrent is unacceptable.”
“Having listened closely to the concerns raised by residents and community leaders, I have contacted GOP Chairman Lawrence Garvey to request its removal and he assured me that he will,” the statement said.
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Day has been highly critical of fire safety enforcement and overdevelopment in Ramapo.
“The concerns raised about overdevelopment are accurate, well-grounded and desperately need to be addressed, but this must be done in a way free of rhetoric and rancor,” his statement said.
County Legislator Aron Wieder, who is depicted in the video as the leader of the coming takeover, wrote on Twitter that “it is a dark day in Rockland where such a shameful video has come to light.” He called on the Rockland GOP and Day to denounce the video.
The video caption includes this: “If Aaron Weider (sic) and his Ramapo machine win, they will control the upcoming redistricting of the County Legislative Districts and spread the influence of Ramapo throughout our County.”
Wieder, a Ramapo Democrat, last week denounced a countywide blogger as anti-Semitic after a news conference.
Day’s spokesman, John Lyon, said Day would reschedule his news conference, which was responding to state Sen. James Skoufis’ committee report on the need for housing code enforcement in Ramapo and other communities across the state.
Skoufis said in a statement: “There are major issues in Rockland County that require even-tempered solutions: overdevelopment, including its impacts on our natural resources; the vitality of our local schools; and political corruption, to name a few. There’s a right way and a wrong way to discuss these challenges. The video created by the Rockland County GOP is unequivocally the wrong way. Words and imagery matter and this campaign piece falls far short of what people deserve in their political discourse.”
Many others decried the video late Wednesday and early Thursday as anti-Semitic in social media posts.
The ADL of New York and New Jersey posted that “The images and language of the #video strongly suggest an appeal to anti-religious bigotry.”
Micheal Miller, a leader of CUPON-Hillcrest, a group fighting overdevelopment, said his organization would not attend the Day news conference and would not become part of the GOP campaign against Orthodox Jews. He said the GOP’s video is reminiscent of material that would be distributed by “the alt-right, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis.”
“This thing they published is well beyond anti-Semitism,” Miller said.
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A statement from the Rockland-based Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said:
“Criticism of municipal policy is not inherently bigoted even when it involves an ethnic group. But in some corners of Rockland County, especially on Facebook groups and among the political class in the Town of Clarkstown, the narrative for years has been that virtually every wrong in Rockland County involves Hasidim, and everything involving Hasidim anywhere in the world is wrong. Almost all items on those Facebook pages are anti Hasidim-based, filled with verifiable lies and contradictory accusations.
“The bigoted video that was released by a county-level major political party is just an illustration how hateful the environment has become. The good citizens of Rockland County generally and more specifically of Clarkstown are standing up to the targeting of Hasidim while bigoted people perpetuate the targeting itself.”
Contributing: Jonathan Bandler and Richard Liebson, (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News. Follow Tiffany Cusaac-Smith and Steve Lieberman on Twitter: @T_Cusaac and @LoHudLegal