According to the Republican Party in New York’s upstate Rockland County, a storm is brewing. In a Facebook video, with ominous music to set the mood, the GOP warned that “they” will “change our life.”
“They” are the county’s Orthodox Jews, who make up an estimated one-third of residents. Rockland is home to the Chasidic village of New Square and the large Orthodox community of Monsey and surrounding areas, where there has been much reported friction between Orthodox Jews and their local opponents about development, the operation of public school districts and zoning.
Such tensions are no excuse, however, for the xenophobia espoused by county Republicans, who were rebuked by New York Attorney General Letitia James and the Anti-Defamation League. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which was largely silent in response to concerns about xenophobia and anti-Semitism prompted by comments by President Trump, denounced the video as “absolutely despicable” and “pure anti-Semitism.”
The video has been taken down, but its corrosive impact continues. According to the video: “Aron Wieder and his Ramapo bloc are plotting a takeover,” referring to a Chasidic legislator representing a Rockland County town with a large Orthodox population. And, the video warned, “chaotic development” and redistricting threaten “our” home, schools, families — and water.
The us-vs.-them thinking, which is so prevalent in the current political environment, is at the heart of the problem. That sentiment steers communities away from solutions and points individuals living on the emotional edge toward violence. Indeed, twice last week, identifiably Jewish men were attacked in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. And men with grudges and assault weapons murdered Jews at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif. The Rockland GOP’s ominous Facebook warnings are of a piece.
But that’s not what Lawrence Garvey, the Republican Party chairman in Rockland County, believes. “Regardless of your thoughts of the video, there are facts that cannot be ignored. This is not, nor has it ever been a religious issue. It is an issue of right and wrong,” he wrote on Facebook. “For those not living in Rockland, it is harder to see a real and unique problem that exists here. 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.”
Then, as if to prove that he didn’t get it, he added: “Anyone who dares speak up 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.”
We encourage Garvey and his fellow travelers to sit down with the RJC, the ADL and, most importantly, their Jewish neighbors, to learn why treating Jews as a fifth column is indeed anti-Semitic and why ominous threats about “them” are xenophobic. Whatever problems may exist in Rockland County, the storm that broke out last week was entirely the fault of the local GOP.