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April 11, 2022 11:27 am

‘Un-American’: NY Officials Excoriate ‘Antisemitic’ Speech by Local Resident to Board Meeting in Nassau County

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Rockville Village Centre resident Michelle Zangari speaking to the town’s Board of Trustees. Photo: Screenshot

Officials in Nassau County in New York State have expressed disgust over a speech by a local resident heard at a recent town meeting that they allege was littered with antisemitic tropes.

The resident, named Michelle Zangari, delivered an extraordinary speech to the Board of Trustees of the Village of Rockville Centre on Apr. 4 lambasting Orthodox Jewish residents in the area. Under the guise of urging trustees to prevent the construction of “new houses of worship in existing residential areas,” Zangari related a nightmarish tale of local Christian residents being driven out of their neighborhoods by Orthodox Jewish newcomers, resulting in declining standards in schools, soaring real estate prices and pressure upon local businesses to close down.

Zangari complained that a menorah “almost 8 feet high” had been erected outside a home in her neighborhood. While her neighbors believed the menorah was a leftover decoration from last Hanukkah, “I know all too well that this is not the case,” Zangari claimed — asserting that the house was now being turned into an informal synagogue so that its owners could avoid paying property taxes.

She then related her experience of growing up in the Five Towns on the south shore of Long Island as evidence for her view, asserting that during the 1980s, Orthodox Jews had moved into the area, causing a flight of long-established residents, “many of whom live in Rockville Centre now.”

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“This is very emotional for anybody who lived through the transformation of the Five Towns,” Zangari said. She warned that Rockville Centre now faced a similar situation, with “rabbis and their families purchasing homes and creating small synagogues.”

Such practices had led to “soaring real estate values,” she said, alleging that residents of the Five Towns had been inundated with offers from Orthodox Jews wanting to buy their homes. “Many residents accepted these offers, and really, who could blame them?” she said. With the arrival of Jewish newcomers, “seats on the school board were won by Orthodox Jewish men,” she said. “The schools declined, they weren’t being used properly, they were used for transportation services to private schools.” In addition, she continued, “they” — an apparent reference to an unspecified group of Jewish residents — “went to the businesses asking them to close on Saturdays.”

The sole evidence of alleged Jewish pressure on non-Jewish businesses to close during the Sabbath cited by Zangari was a bagel shop where she had worked, whose owner had been approached on several occasions, she said.

Zangari ended her speech with an appeal for action to prevent new synagogues from opening. “This may sound extreme, many people have said to me, ‘you sound crazy,’ I get it,” she said. “You may think it could never happen here, but trust me, none of us living in the Five Towns thought it would happen there either.”

The dilution of the neighborhood’s Christian character was a particular source of regret. When Zangari moved to Rockville, “people told me not to worry” because the seat of the local Catholic diocese was located there. “The diocese building was sold, there is now a menorah at least 8 feet high on the front lawn of a home a few blocks from me, and I am worried,” she declared. She called on the trustees to amend the local building code “so that a synagogue cannot be on every residential street like they are in the Five Towns.”

None of the trustees at the meeting challenged Zangari, with the local mayor, Francis Murray, assuring her, “The board will be very concerned and look into it immediately.”

“Thank you, I appreciate that,” Zangari replied.

However, Zangari’s remarks to the trustees’ meeting drew sharp criticism from senior local officials as well as the district’s representative to the US Congress.

Calling her comments “offensive and un-American,” Bruce Blakeman — Nassau County’s chief executive — stressed in a tweet that it was the “duty of responsive public officials to condemn the type of antisemitic hate speech that was in evidence at the Rockville Centre Village Board Meeting. I am hopeful that the Members of the Board will also respond forcefully in this matter.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) meanwhile slammed Zangari’s comments as “inappropriate and hurtful.”

“Regardless of the intent of the speaker, the remarks are antisemitic and must be called out,” Suozzi said.

Separately, New York Attorney General Letitia James strongly condemned Zangari’s speech.

“The antisemitic, hateful remarks made by an individual at the Rockville Centre board meeting are despicable,” James declared on Twitter. “New York stands with its Jewish community and all of our communities, and this kind of bigotry won’t go unchecked.”

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