Tags: Two | Sides | the | Bigotry | Card

Two Sides of the Bigotry Card

Tuesday, 11 April 2006 12:00 AM

I yield to no one in identifying myself as a Jew. Although I am secular in outlook, I am proud of my ethnic and religious heritage and I support Jewish causes and Jews in distress.

For example, in 1991 I strongly supported the Lubavitchers of Crown Heights when they were under attack in what I described as a pogrom. A mob rushed through the streets shouting, "Jew, Jew, get the Jew," referring to Yankel Rosenbaum, who was stabbed by Lemrick Nelson, Jr. and ultimately bled to death.

When my fellow co-religionists are wrong, I will tell them so. Such is the case when Councilman Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Dov Hikind - both friends of mine - forced a top uniformed police official, Chief of Department Joseph J. Esposito, to apologize for an expletive he allegedly used in confronting rioters in Borough Park last Tuesday evening.

The riots, which according to The New York times involved setting two dozen bonfires and damaging two police cars, were set off by a mob protesting the issuance of a ticket to Arthur Schick. Schick, according to the Daily News, was "talking on his cell phone while driving in Borough Park [and] became belligerent and refused to hand over his license and registration, leading cops to arrest and handcuff him."

Felder, who rushed to the scene, stated, "I want him [Esposito] to put something in writing to the community to apologize for the anti-Semitic remarks that he made." The remarks, according to Felder, were along the lines of "get those f---ing Jews out of here."

The chief admits using the expletive, but not attaching it to the word "Jews." I suspect that in a moment of alarm and anger at seeing the mob rioting, he may well have brought the two words together.

So what?

What the mob was doing was unacceptable and criminal and those doing it were Jews. Had the mob been composed of Italians, Irish, Hispanic or African-Americans, I have no doubt he would have applied the expletive to whatever mob was there.

Again, so what? In none of those cases would such remarks have been racially bigoted.

Further, by all accounts, including those of Felder and Hikind, Esposito's record in the Jewish community for the past 16years has been exemplary. He was the commanding officer in the 66th Precinct from 1990 to 1993.

I know that precinct from my days as mayor. In 1978, I was holding a town hall meeting in Brooklyn when I was told there was a riot in Borough Park, a Hasidic neighborhood. A mob of Hasidic men, angry at the murder of a neighbor, rioted.

They ransacked the 66th Precinct house, throwing papers and files onto the floor. It was the Sabbath and so what they could do physically was limited. I remember the chagrin and anger of the police officers in having their precinct ravaged. Thereafter the cops referred to the precinct as Fort Surrender.

When I arrived at the station, I was asked if I could disperse the mob still outside. I went outside and as I recall, I said, "You are acting like meshuggenehs [crazy people]. Go home." They ultimately dispersed.

I was asked later if I felt any fear in confronting the mob. I said no and mentioned I was pretty certain none of them were armed with guns or knives. As it was the Sabbath, they were not able to carry anything.

I said jokingly that the worst that could have happened would be that I might have been suffocated with handkerchiefs stuffed down my throat.

False charges of racism and allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at police officers are equally inappropriate and must be deplored. No individual or community is above the law.

As we draw closer to the 2006 election, the Democratic congressional leadership, including the Black Caucus, is recognizing that it needs to convey moderate, responsible positions to the American public.

The latest example of such moderation can be seen in the response of the leadership and the Black Caucus to Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's physical attack on a Capitol police officer, who did not recognize her as she bypassed a metal detector at the door of a congressional building, and sought to restrain her.

Congresswoman McKinney was not wearing congressional identification and had a totally new hairstyle. Wisely, the Black Caucus did not rush to her defense when she claimed that she was the victim of racial profiling by the police officer.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Representative Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee came right out and criticized her. Congressman John Lewis told The Times that he had told Ms. McKinney, "You need to come to a non-violence workshop."

I recall another incident in 2001 involving McKinney when, according to The New York Times, she wrote in a letter to a Saudi prince that she "support[ed] his call for a re-examination of American policy in the Middle East."

Jay Kaimer, at the time regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said: "She seemed to be trying to draw a sense of moral equivalency suggesting that the problems in Israel might justify the attack on the World Trade Center."

Ms. McKinney was defeated in the congressional primary in Georgia that year as was her father, Billy McKinney, a Georgia state legislator with a history of making anti-Semitic slurs.

Ms. McKinney returned to office in 2005 when her successor ran for the U.S. Senate. The Black Caucus defended her in 2001, denouncing those calling for her defeat.

I wrote a letter at that time to a member of that Caucus, John Lewis, a great congressman and person of conscience. My letter stated, "You have always been a extraordinary man with your well-deserved reputation for fairness and decency and as the conscience of the House of Representatives.

"I am writing to you today because I just read a very disturbing article in today's New York Times, which I am enclosing. The article publishes the statements made by Congresswoman Cynthia A. McKinney about current United States' policy in the Middle East and her prescription for a change adverse to the State of Israel.

"Congresswoman McKinney is perceived by many in the American Jewish community as extremely unfriendly to that community and to the State of Israel as well. Have you discussed this matter with her, or issued any public statements on her comments? If you have, would you share your insights with me?"

Congressman Lewis responded, "As you know, I have long been a friend of the Jewish community and the State of Israel. My steadfast commitment to their issues is without question. Although I have not discussed this particular letter with Rep. McKinney, she is clearly aware of my stance on the issue, my unwavering support for the State of Israel, and my concerns with her continuing actions, which appear to be adverse to Israel and the Jewish community.

"However, I also believe that it is not productive for me to get into a dispute with her on this particular letter or our larger, long-standing differences on the issue each time she makes a comment or takes action that I do not agree with. As you may know, I represent the 5th District of Georgia, which includes the City of Atlanta and portions of DeKalb County.

"Rep. McKinney represents the neighboring 4th District, which includes the remainder of DeKalb County. Therefore, we are compelled to work together on local projects and issues that impact our intertwined districts and constituents.

"For the benefit of my constituents, I cannot afford to confront her every single time that I disagree with her statements and actions. Cynthia is very clear about my position on the Middle East and I am certain that my constituents are as well."

McKinney, no longer supported by her peers in congress, made what some have described as an apology regarding the incident with the Capitol Police.

It is not.

Her statement was not that she had committed an act calling for an apology - that is, striking the police officer seeking to discharge his duties to protect the members of Congress and the public - but her concern for the "misunderstanding" and "escalation" of the incident.

Her conduct confirms the truth of the old saying that character, or the lack thereof, is immutable.

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I yield to no one in identifying myself as a Jew. Although I am secular in outlook, I am proud of my ethnic and religious heritage and I support Jewish causes and Jews in distress. For example, in 1991 I strongly supported the Lubavitchers of Crown Heights when they...
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Tuesday, 11 April 2006 12:00 AM
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