As the New York City Police Department announced on Tuesday that its hate crimes unit was investigating a series of attacks last Friday night against Orthodox Jews in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, a prominent leader of the community warned that the ongoing threat of antisemitic violence meant that “people in some neighborhoods are scared to leave their houses.”
Speaking to The Algemeiner on Tuesday, Rabbi Yaacov Behrman — the founder of the Brooklyn-based Jewish Future Alliance — said that the spate of attacks over the last two years against Orthodox Jews in the Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park neighborhoods were overwhelmingly perceived within the community as being spurred by antisemitic malice.
“People’s feelings are important, and the community sees this as antisemitic,” Berhman said. “There are these constant attacks on Jewish individuals in which no money is stolen, and where there seems to be no motivation other than to attack Jews.”
The latest incidents were registered last Friday night, with three separate attacks in Borough Park that involved the same passenger car over a five-block radius. Security cameras captured each incident, in which several men jumped out of the car to chase Jewish men and boys. In one incident, a Jewish man was punched and beaten after the group pinned him against another vehicle with their car.
More than half of the hate crimes reported in New York City this year have been antisemitic in nature, with over 150 incidents targeting Jews — a rise of 63 percent in the previous year, according to figures released by the NYPD in September.
Although hate crime-related arrests are also up — as of September, 135 compared with 108 in 2018 — Jewish leaders in Brooklyn said there was growing frustration within their communities that the law was not being enforced, with many people believing that district attorney’s office was reluctant to prosecute individuals arrested for antisemitic offenses.
“There’s a lot of the pressure on the NYPD to step back from so-called ‘minor crimes,’” Rabbi Eli Cohen — executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council — told The Algemeiner on Tuesday. “We’ve had many conversations with the Brooklyn DA on whether assailants can be detained based on their likelihood to reoffend, but they are not doing that.”
Berhman argued that the NYPD was being reined in because of pressure from city politicians. He added he would be “carefully watching” candidates in the next New York City mayoral election, in 2021, “to see whether or not they are supportive of the police, and how they plan to resolve these issues.”
Cohen noted that there were also “positive developments” taking place at the level of community outreach, including dialogue with young African Americans. The attacks in Brooklyn have typically involved black men in their teens and early 20s assaulting lone Orthodox Jews.
“There’s a real desire to learn about others, and live together in harmony,” Cohen said. He said that the antisemitic violence in Brooklyn was not, in his view, rooted in “any kind of cultural or institutional or group-led sense of resentment.”
“This is more of a problem at the individual level rather than the group level,” Cohen said.
Rabbi David Niederman — president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn — told The Algemeiner that “a more systemic and less ad hoc approach” on the part of city officials was needed.
“We’re seeing attack after attack,” Rabbi Niederman said on Tuesday. “We need a think tank composed of the NYPD and different community representatives to come together, and figure out why this is happening and what we can do.”