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December 28, 2021 9:29 am

‘Antisemitism in Disguise:’ New York Orthodox Groups Welcome Hochul’s Veto of Conservation Bill

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Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at a press conference in Midtown Manhattan on October 13, 2021 in New York City. Photo: John Lamparski/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect – Several Jewish groups are praising Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York for vetoing a bill on land conservation that they say is antisemitism in disguise.

The bill, A5761, would have allowed the town of Blooming Grove, in Orange County, NY, to create a “community preservation fund” with property transfer tax dollars aimed at preserving open spaces and farmland.

Blooming Grove is less than 10 miles north of the Chassidic enclave of Kiryas Joel, which has a population of some 30,000 people, nearly all of them chassidim. In recent years, members of the Orthodox community have been moving to nearby towns, including Chester and Blooming Grove. Restrictions on home building and land development are seen by some as an attempt to limit the growth of the Orthodox community in the region.

According to the Agudath Israel of America, which had been lobbying against the legislation for several months, “the real purpose of the bill is to buy up open lands in order to keep Chassidic Jews from purchasing this land and building homes in Blooming Grove … .”

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The bill passed the state senate by a margin of 2-1, with 43 state legislators approving the measure and 20 opposing it.

In vetoing the bill, Hochul wrote, “There have been well-documented tensions in Orange County between local elected officials and members of the Hasidic community. Similar tensions in the nearby Town of Chester resulted in litigation. It would be inappropriate to sign this legislation at this juncture, while facts are still being gathered about the situation. Therefore, I am constrained to veto this bill.”

NY Attorney General Letitia James had sued the Town of Chester for engaging in a “systemic concerted effort to prevent Chassidic Jewish families from moving into the town in violation” of the Fair Housing Act. That act said it is unlawful to refuse to sell or rent a residence based on a number of factors including religion. The lawsuit was settled in the spring with both the Town of Chester and Orange County agreeing to change zoning practices.

The Rabbinical Alliance of America, based in Brooklyn, praised the governor and argued that the bill was“a ploy to prevent the Hasidic population from developing legitimate housing for its community’s needs.”

“Governor Hochul sent the message that it is unacceptable to enact laws that serve as a tool to discriminate,” said the alliance’s Executive Vice President Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik. “One of the most powerful ways to eradicate institutional hate, bigotry and antisemitism is to carefully examine legislation being considered for law to ensure that it carries no discriminatory impact. Just because a bill goes through the legislative preparatory stages and process does not mean the proposed legislation isn’t discriminatory.”

Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah’s director of government relations in New York, who oversaw much of the discussions with state legislators about the bill, said, “We are glad that Governor Hochul saw through this façade and recognized the true intentions of this bill. This veto sends a clear message that Chassidic Jews, like any other Americans, are entitled to live anywhere in New York State.”

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