Tensions between the chasidic community in Rockland County and some of its neighbors, exacerbated by a Facebook campaign ad that the county’s Republican Party put up and the took down, boiled over on Tuesday night.
The video, “A storm is brewing in Rockland,” has been called anti-Semitic and “deeply disturbing.” It takes aim at the large and growing chasidic Jewish community in the county, the specter of “overdevelopment,” and a proposed yeshiva campus.
The response to the video has been intense, with people on both sides
The video, which was up briefly, features menacing music, the slogan “If They Win, We Lose,” and a warning that “they” will “change our way of life.”
“Aron Wieder and his Ramapo bloc are plotting a takeover,” the video says. Aron Wieder who is chasidic, is a county legislator who represents Ramapo, home to chasidic and charedi communities. The ad warns that “chaotic development” and redistricting threaten what it calls “our” homes, schools, families — and water.
The Journal News — it’s Lohud online — reports that in March, on his Facebook page, “Rockland County Executive Ed Day acknowledged a Republican campaign strategy to make county Legislator Aron Wieder of Ramapo the face of the political opposition, including using a video to help oust Democrats and take control of the Legislature.”
That was “A storm is brewing in Rockland.”
On Tuesday night, the county legislature met in special session to discuss the video, the reaction to the video, the underlying charges of anti-Semitism, and the clear evidence of anti-Semitism.
It was a standing-room-only meeting in a too-small room, with many people waiting outside. It allowed people — mainly non-Jews, apparently, and certainly mainly non-chasidic — to vent. It allowed the deep feelings, often tinged with hate, that many county residents hold, to come out. It made clear that the issues of zoning and development are deeply divisive.
And it offered no solution, other than that chance to vent.
Meanwhile, politicians and others reacted to the video.
Mr. Day wrote a message about it on the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County’s Facebook page, “saying that this is a very troubling video,” the federation’s CEO, Gary Siepser, said. “But there was a little bit of yes but about it, reflecting that there are actual issues that have to be discussed.
“There has been a lot of action on our Facebook page,” he continued. “We’ve made ourselves a bit of a lighting rod. We have a a few dozen messages from different people, pro and con. Mostly con. We have hidden most of them.
“For us, the issue is hate speech. The last level we saw this level of hate speech was during the measles outbreak.”
Mr. Siepser thinks that hate and fear are getting in the way of logic, and that it is dangerous. “We need adults in the room, who can say that we should talk about the things that really are issues,” he said. “Hate speech doesn’t address any issues. It just gets in the way.”
“This video is deeply disturbing and should be removed and condemned immediately by the Rockland County Republican Party,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is a Democrat, said in a statement. “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. Attacking those who are different than we are only breeds hate and makes us weaker. We must all stand together to denounce this hateful video.”
Rockland’s Republican Party chairman, Lawrence Garvey, defended the video in a Facebook post on the party’s page.
“Regardless of your thoughts of the video, there are facts that cannot be ignored,” he wrote. “This is not, nor has it ever been a religious issue. It is an issue of right and wrong. 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.
“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.”
In a tweet, the Republican Jewish Coalition called the video “absolutely despicable” and “pure anti-Semitism.
“The Rockland County Republican Party is an embarrassment and has no place associating itself with our party,” the RJC said.
The New York/New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League said the “images and language of the video strongly suggest an appeal to anti-religious bigotry, which has no place in our elections.” It called on the Rockland GOP to remove the video and “work to understand why it is offensive.”
Rockland County is estimated to be more than one-third Orthodox and includes the chasidic village of New Square and the sprawling Orthodox community of Monsey. It has seen intense infighting between the burgeoning Orthodox communities and local opponents over development, public school budgets, and zoning.
Responses to the video on the party’s Facebook story ran the gamut from enthusiastic endorsements to charges of racism and anti-Semitism.
“Last time I saw a video like this it was in black and white and in German,” Josh Groll commented.
“I think if ANY group of people came into an area and overdeveloped it, changed the school system, tried to take over the way the area was governed, and changed the landscape of an area, people would be VERY upset … just happens to be chasidic in this case … sorry, I don’t see it being anti-Semitic …” Brenda Logun Sclossberg wrote.
Jewish Standard and Jewish Telegraphic Agency