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February 22, 2021 6:06 pm

Top New York Civil Rights Advocate Under Fire for Calling Orthodox Jews ‘Extremist Bloc’ in Media Interview

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(Illustrative) A street view of Borough Park in Brooklyn. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash 90.

The executive director of a leading civil rights advocacy organization was under fire on Monday over comments she made describing Orthodox Jewish voters in New York as an “extremist bloc” in a media interview.

Interviewed for a Gothamist article on Sunday focusing on New York City mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang’s robust defense of private Jewish schools, Susan Lerner — executive director of Common Cause/New York, a civil rights group — argued that the introduction of Ranked-Choice Voting in this year’s election would diminish the influence of Orthodox Jewish voters.

“One of its goals is to build a consensus majority, and you don’t do that by taking extreme positions,” Lerner said of the new system.

“If you’re pandering to an extremist bloc, you’re perhaps not being strategic,” she said.

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Lerner’s blanket labeling offended observers inside and outside the Jewish community.

Freshman Congressional Rep. Richie Torres (D), who represents The Bronx borough on Capitol Hill, said on Twitter that “Calling Orthodox Jews an ‘extremist bloc’ is appalling and antisemitic. It should be possible to disagree on policy without demonizing a whole class of people.”

“We cannot accept labeling the Orthodox Community as ‘extremist,'” NY State Sen. Brian Benjamin, who represents Harlem, declared on Twitter. “Those running good government groups should know better than anyone not to traffic in stereotypes or stigmas.”

In a later tweet, Lerner clarified her comments by saying that the charge of “extremism” was directed at those who undermined New York State’s Substantial Equivalency Law, which regulates statutory curriculum requirements in public and private schools.

Lerner said it was “an extreme position to offer to flout the NYS substantial equivalency law to the benefit of voters who’ve made it a litmus test issue. Common Cause/NY has said that many times, and will insist on the meshugana [crazy] position that politicians uphold the law.”

But that response drew short shrift from Orthodox Jewish representatives such as Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein from Brooklyn.

“You called our entire community an ‘extremist bloc,'” Eichenstein said on Twitter. “Had a chance to apologize. Instead, you doubled down on your hate. If I called an ethnic group an ‘extremist bloc’ you’d call for my resignation. There should be no place for bigoted hate at Common Cause. Resign.”

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