Monday, July 10, 2006

Showdown over anti-Semitism

Some have suggested that anti-Semitism was the elephant in the room last week during the Orange Legislature's vote to block the Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel's request to build two water tanks in an undeveloped county park. Perhaps, instead, the proverbial elephant was Goshen-based real estate salesman Robert Lawrence Jr.

As with prior KJ vs. the World votes in the Legislature, Lawrence took the podium in Goshen Thursday and charged that bigotry - not a desire to defend the greater good - was the true motivation for the resolution.

"Make no mistake about the path that I'm taking to tonight," he began. "That path is defending my Jewish friends, or any other minority or religion, from economic terrorism."

But when that path led Lawrence to compare KJ's critics to a certain German dictator - "We all know about the man who did this in the 1940s," he said - the crowd of more than 100 erupted in furor.

"What's your commission?" a man in the back of the room shouted, a clear reference to the Sullivan County land deal that this newspaper has reported Lawrence is discussing with Kiryas Joel officials.

But the anti-Semitism showdown only escalated after Michael Crean of Blooming Grove took the podium to refute Lawrence. The pair exchanged words and briefly laid hands on each other, as the man made his way back to his seat.

A sheriff's deputy separated them. Later, lawmakers devoted a large portion of their comments trying to cool down the bigotry debate. Legislator Roxanne Donnery, D-Highland Halls, in particular, blasted Lawrence.

"He came to inflame crowd," Donnery later said. "He was trying to incite the crowd, and he was very effective at what he did."

Pondering or pandering?

If you're a sitting lawmaker running for higher office, you can bet people are watching your votes. If you're such a candidate deciding an issue considered vital by the bloc-voting Village of Kiryas Joel, you will be watched like a hawk.


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