‘Call Out Antisemitism Early and Aggressively,’ Urges Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop in Wake of Deadly Kosher Market Shooting
A little more than a week after the furious gun battle in Jersey City that claimed the lives of a police officer along with three people at a kosher supermarket, the city’s mayor on Wednesday had an unambiguous message for local officials and law enforcement agencies around the country who are confronting a rise in antisemitic hate crimes.
“There’s a growing antisemitic sentiment in America and around the world, and it’s becoming more emboldened, more out in the open — there’s no secret about that,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop told The Algemeiner in an interview. “That’s why it is extremely important to call this out early, even the small things, when you see them.”
It was the 42-year-old Fulop — a former US Marine and the son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary and Israel — who first alerted the world to the antisemitic nature of the assault on the kosher market on Dec. 10, even as other New Jersey state officials were markedly hesitant to make the same determination.
“That was the rub I had with some officials in Trenton not saying immediately that this was a hate crime,” Fulop explained. “It wasn’t difficult to connect the dots on that, and I think you do a disservice to Judaism, and a disservice to fighting antisemitism and hate, by not calling it out aggressively and early.”
Investigations in the days since the atrocity have proved beyond doubt that the two shooters — David Anderson and his partner, Francine Graham — were driven by a pathological loathing of Jews.
Last Friday, Fulop suggested that the intended target of Anderson and Graham’s attack was a Jewish religious school attached to the kosher market. “My opinion is that as more information comes out, it’ll become increasingly clear that the target was the 50 children at the yeshiva attached to that store,” Fulop said at the time.
Meanwhile, a report published on Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League analyzing Anderson’s postings on social media concluded that there was “a distinct and undeniable pattern of virulent rhetoric that indicates deep hostility and a propensity for violence towards his purported enemies — Jewish people.”
On top of these revelations came a fresh problem, in the form of an antisemitic rant posted on Facebook over the weekend by an elected member of the Jersey City Board of Education that appeared to justify the slaughter at the market.
“Where was all this faith and hope when Black homeowners were threatened, intimidated, and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the jewish (sic) community?” the board member, Joan Terrell Paige, said in a now-deleted entry on her Facebook page that drew widespread media attention on Tuesday.
She continued: “Mr. Anderson and Ms. Graham went directly to the kosher supermarket. I believe they knew they would come out in body bags. What is the message they were sending? Are we brave enough to explore the answer to their message? Are we brave enough to stop the assault on the Black communities in America?”
Again, it was Fulop who took the lead in responding to Terrell Paige’s comments. The mayor called immediately for her resignation, a demand that was echoed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and other state leaders on Wednesday.
Fulop said that his swift response to Terrell Paige had been driven by the same imperative to counter antisemitic manifestations early and decisively.
“For part of the last week, we’ve been talking about more anti-bias and anti-hate programs in our schools, and here you have an elected Board of Education member who’s spurring hate,” Fulop argued. “If she had said something about another community — if she’d said something about the African American community, or the Muslim community, or the Latino community, or the gay community — what would the standard be? The same standard should apply now, and it shouldn’t be different because it’s the Orthodox Jewish community.”
At the same time, Fulop said he had been heartened by the show of solidarity across Jersey City’s communities, and especially in the Greenville neighborhood, where the kosher market is located.
“That community is predominantly African American, and that African American community in Greenville has been nothing short of terrific,” Fulop said. “They’ve helped their neighbors, and so many people have reached out to help with getting the grocery store up and running again, and I think that more represents the Jersey City community.”
Continued the mayor: “The sentiments expressed by Joan are definitely not representative of the broader community.”
Asked whether he was concerned that the trend of violent attacks on Orthodox Jews by young African Americans in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods might surface in his own community, Fulop pointed out that the two situations were very different.
“When the Jewish community first moved here in 2014-15, for sure there was an undercurrent against it,” Fulop said. “I think it was less about the specific Jewish community, and more about concerns regarding a changing community overall.”
The Orthodox Jewish community, he went on to say, “was easily identifiable and so people targeted them at that point.” However, “over the first two years, leaders of the African American community and the Orthodox Jewish community met numerous times, and everybody came to what seemed to be a very, very good place.”
During the past year, Fulop said, “we’ve had nothing but positive feedback. So I don’t see this as an ongoing tension and I don’t think that the tensions that you see in Williamsburg [and other sections of Brooklyn] would be something that would manifest here.”
The same goodwill has been visible in the outpouring of support for the victims of the shooting — Police Detective Joseph Seals, Mindy Ferencz, co-owner of the store, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, a clerk at the store, and Moshe Deutsch, a store customer. Online fundraising campaigns had raised several hundred thousand dollars for the Seals and Rodriguez families, Fulop noted.
“Everyone of these people had a family, and it’s been heartbreaking seeing these families and meeting them,” Fulop reflected.
Asked whether his being Jewish had made his job in recent days easier or harder, Fulop recalled that he had avoided a direct role in the various discussions over the Jewish community’s arrival five years ago. He had done so, he said, both to evade potential accusations of bias and to allow the communities to reach an understanding of their own accord. But when it came to the kosher market attack, he continued, a very different response had been needed.
“In this last week, it wasn’t for me to say, ‘Let another official take the lead,'” Fulop said. “Because this was not something that could work itself out over time. There was a very small window when one could make a statement, and it was an important statement to make.”