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October 15, 2020 1:18 pm

‘These Ultra-Orthodox Communities Are Very Powerful Politically’: New York Governor Cuomo Angers Orthodox Jews With Latest Coronavirus Comments

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Reuters / Mike Segar / File.

Orthodox Jews in New York have reacted angrily to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest comments that local authorities were shying away from enforcing coronavirus restrictions in Orthodox neighborhoods because of political pressure.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Cuomo repeatedly stressed his view that imposing the restrictions was a matter of “enforcement” rather than “public education” in the areas of New York, designated as “red zones,” where tighter restrictions were being applied. The zones include parts of the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens as well as Rockland, Orange and Broome Counties, where large concentrations of Orthodox Jews reside.

“The micro-cluster we’re focusing on is the ultra-Orthodox communities,” Cuomo said — using a descriptor that is increasingly frowned on by many Hasidim, who fear it conveys a negative stereotype.

Cuomo then remarked that “the enforcement from the local governments is very uneven especially when it’s politically sensitive.”

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He continued: “And that’s what we’re running to with lot of these ultra-Orthodox communities, who are also very politically powerful, don’t kid yourself.”

The governor warned that communities who failed to follow the restrictions from now on would suffer funding cuts.

“[N]othing else I have done has motivated them — not my rapier wit, not my sense of humor, not my guilt, not my blame, not my admonition, and not my pleas,” Cuomo said. “Maybe money works.”

Pointing out that he had in the past increased funding for yeshivas and other Jewish institutions, Cuomo declared: “If they violate the health order, they will not receive funding.”

Later on his remarks, Cuomo clarified that the “ultra-Orthodox community, the Hasidic community, we’re not talking about a monolith here, right? Many groups have been cooperative and have been helpful, and I want to acknowledge that also.”

Cuomo’s comments did little to ease tensions with Orthodox Jewish activists and leaders, many of whom have accused both the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of a discriminatory focus on social distancing in their communities.

Brooklyn activist and former State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told local broadcaster PIX11 on Thursday that he believed Cuomo’s rhetoric about the red zones was “causing an outbreak of the virus of antisemitism.”

And in a video directly addressing Cuomo, Yossi Gestetner of the Orthodox Jewish Political Action Committee (OJPAC) argued that the coronavirus was “not an Orthodox problem.”

“Coronavirus at this point is a New York problem, it’s a Cuomo problem,” Gestetner said, going on to charge the governor with scapegoating Orthodox Jews to divert critical attention from his administration’s coronavirus policies.

Another Orthodox Jewish activist, David Shor, posted a long thread on Twitter acknowledging that “most people outside the [Orthodox] community have no idea what’s really transpiring here, so allow me to try to clarify some stuff for you all.”

In the course of his thread, Shor bitterly criticized Cuomo’s approach to the Orthodox Jewish community during the recent holiday season.

“Cuomo’s first proclamation on the uptick of cases came on the high holiday of Yom Kippur,” he wrote. “His disregard for the community he was supposedly talking to and caring for — could not be any clearer.”

Concluded Shor: “Orthodox Jews also don’t want to be living in a ghetto again, where different rules are tailored for their community. You just need to listen to Cuomo & De Blasio, to hear how their color-coded neighborhoods are all about the Jews. Never again is never again.”

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