Jewish leaders, speaking to The Daily Signal, condemned a New York Times article for having “whitewashed” a “pogrom.”
As Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin met with rabbis in New York City’s Orthodox community, promising support for yeshivas (Jewish schools) and racking up endorsements, America’s newspaper of record published an article explaining “How the Hasidic Jewish Community Became a Political Force in New York.”
Emma Fitzsimmons, the Times’ City Hall bureau chief, recounted the Crown Heights riots of 1991, a pivotal moment that helped future mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani’s law-and-order message gain support among the Orthodox Jewish community. Those riots broke out after a police-led Orthodox Jewish motorcade accidentally struck and killed a black child, prompting some black New Yorkers to harass and attack Hasidic Jews in the city—killing one and terrifying the community.
Fitzsimmons described the riots as “clashes” between two groups, as opposed to a vicious attack on the Jewish community. Here’s how she characterized the situation:
The violence and chaos was almost unimaginable. Overnight, Brooklyn streets had turned into combat zones, pitting groups of Hasidic Jews against mostly Black men—some holding longstanding grudges over what they saw as the Hasidic community receiving preferential treatment from the police and the city. Racial and antisemitic epithets filled the air alongside hurled rocks and bottles.
A police-led motorcade of the Lubavitcher grand rebbe had fatally struck a Black child, and in the melees that followed, a visiting Australian Hasidic scholar was stabbed to death. Hasidic leaders in Brooklyn pleaded with city officials for more police intervention and protection, but the help did not come until days later.
Two years later, those wounds were still raw enough to galvanize Hasidic voters who rallied around Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican mayoral candidate. Mr. Giuliani played on the widely held perception that his opponent, Mayor David N. Dinkins, had not acted quickly enough to quell the violence, which Mr. Giuliani characterized as a “pogrom.”
The community voted as a unified bloc, developing a political voice and muscle that it had not demonstrated before, recalled Dov Hikind, a longtime Democratic state assemblyman from the Orthodox community.
“The [New York Times] claims Crown Heights riots of ’91 were ‘pitting groups of Hasidic Jews against mostly black men.’ This is as accurate as ‘pitting groups of Jews against Nazi SS on the streets of Europe,’ & then NYT ‘contextualizes’ the antisemitic pogrom that actually happened,” Rabbi Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, wrote on Twitter.
That passage in the Times, Menken added, displays “obvious” bigotry.
Menken criticized the tenor of the entire article in comments to The Daily Signal.
“The article makes Hasidic voting look somehow nefarious, yet admits that the communal priority is simply those who do not ‘antagonize,’ who are not hostile,” the rabbi said. “The Hasidic community simply wants liberty to preserve its lifestyle, and one wonders if the Times would be so exercised if it were [New York Gov. Kathy] Hochul who had pledged to support their religious and educational freedom.”
“It’s absolutely absurd for the Times to suggest that the 1991—let’s call it what it was—pogrom was somehow a standoff between two sides when one side, the visibly Jewish one, were the clear targets of organized violence,” Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, told The Daily Signal. “If a story of 30 years ago gets whitewashed, how will the world remember Nazi atrocities from decades earlier?”
Elliot Kaufman, letters editor at The Wall Street Journal, has written extensively about The New York Times’ history of twisting the facts of the riot.
“The article’s description of the Crown Heights riot was a distortion of the facts,” Kaufman told The Daily Signal. “It was not a clash between two groups, blacks and Jews. For three days, black rioters took to the streets and beat up any Jew they could find. This happened in Brooklyn in 1991, while police watched, the mayor stayed aloof, and liberals made excuses.”
The New York Times still can’t face up to the fact that, as Philip Gourevitch put it in 1993 [writing in Commentary], “it was a riot not by victims of racism but by racists, an attack on Jews because they were Jews. Blacks shouting anti-Semitic slogans, and explicitly proclaiming themselves the proud reincarnations of Hitler, sought to destroy and/or drive out their Jewish neighbors by force. In this respect, the event was unprecedented in American history.’
Neither The New York Times nor the Anti-Defamation League responded to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment by publication time.
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