New York AG condemns county GOP video as anti-Semitic

Video says Hasidic Jews are plotting 'takeover'

By Kate Sullivan, Lauren del Valle and Jason Carroll, CNN
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works, Inc.

New York Attorney General Letitia James

(CNN) - New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday condemned a video posted by the Rockland County Republican Party, calling it anti-Semitic for falsely warning that Hasidic Jews are plotting a "takeover."

The ad, which was posted on the group's Facebook page and has since been taken down, shows dark storm clouds while dramatic, ominous music plays. It claims "overdevelopment" has "plagued" Rockland, which is about 25 miles north of New York City, and singles out Rockland County legislator Aron Wieder. The video uses phrases like "A storm is brewing," and says, "What's at stake" is "our way of life." Text in the video reads, "If they win. We lose."

James called the video "deeply disturbing."

"To clearly state that members of the Jewish community are a threat to families and our safety and that they must be stopped is despicable and completely unacceptable," she said in a statement.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the video an "attack and incitement against the Hasidic community" and the "very definition of discrimination and anti-Semitism."

The Democratic governor said in a statement posted to Twitter that the video is the "latest example of the politics of division and hate permeating the nation" and condemned it "in the strongest possible terms." He called on every member of the New York Republican Party to "openly denounce this hateful rhetoric immediately."

The video comes amid numerous attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York City and its surrounding metro area.

The ad invokes the Hasidic Jewish community in the county, which has been developing homes and places of worship with little regard for zoning restrictions, according to local leaders.

This month, a New York State Senate report found a "build first, ask permission later" mentality among builders within the Rockland County town of Ramapo and local municipalities.

Rockland County Republican Chairman Lawrence Garvey insisted the video is not about "a religious issue." He wrote in a post on the group's Facebook page that the purpose of the video "was to point out the critical situation that is ahead in the upcoming election and the critical impact that redistricting will have on our County."

Garvey wrote that anyone who speaks out about "overdevelopment, corruption, or education is immediately labeled as anti-Semitic without any concern for facts or without any idea of the true issues at hand." He said the people of Rockland "have become desperate for attention to the problems facing our communities and many live every day with the threat of losing their homes and neighborhoods."

It's not the first time the Rockland GOP group has faced similar criticism. In 2015, the Anti-Defamation League called out an ad put out by the group as "highly offensive" and "inappropriate" for its portrayal of Hasidic Jews, according to The Forward. The Anti-Defamation League's New York regional director, Evan Bernstein, said in a statement to The Forward that the ad "blames the Orthodox Jewish community for the substandard and illegal housing problems in Rockland."

But a number of local leaders say the tension in Rockland and ongoing debate over development is no excuse for the ad.

"It reminds most people of the same movement as extreme as the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South, as well as Nazi Germany," Rabbi Justin Schwartz, chairman of the Rockland Illegal Housing Taskforce, told CNN.

Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, told CNN, "The core of the problem of trying to scapegoat the Hasidic community here in Rockland County for every real or perceived problem, it's still happening within the political class."

The Republican Jewish Coalition called the video "pure anti-Semitism," and wrote in a post on Twitter that the Rockland County GOP is an "embarrassment and has no place associating itself with our party."

The subject of the video, Wieder, called for it to be taken down and posted on Twitter that "it is a dark day in Rockland where such a shameful video has come to light."

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