Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Video comparing Rockland, Nazis blasted 

A video detailing what its producers call rising anti-Semitism against Rockland's Orthodox Jews is being sharply criticized for its comparisons with conditions in Nazi Germany that led to the Holocaust.

The video uploaded to YouTube, titled "The Jew in Rockland" and produced by Colossal PR on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, takes particular aim at a Facebook page that advocates against the influence of the Orthodox bloc vote on Rockland politics and government.

The video opens with narration about Jews leaving France in response to rising anti-Semitism before shifting its focus to Rockland.

"In New York, just moments from New York City ... the Orthodox Jewish community lives in constant fear facing harassment and intimidation, fearing for their own safety and for the safety of their loved ones," the narrator says.

The video, which was posted on YouTube on Sunday, had 6,182 views as of Wednesday morning. The comments on the page were also disabled.

The video then compares images that have appeared on the Facebook page titled "Block The Block Vote" to ones used in Nazi Germany. The video goes on to show comments it says were posted on the page that the video's producers consider "hateful."

Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of OJPAC, said the 5-minute, 43-second video was produced to bring attention to increasing hatred against Rockland's Orthodox and Hasidic communities.

"This video alerting and exposing the hateful rhetoric should have been made months if not years ago," Gestetner said. "And I apologize for my community and good people of Rockland for not exposing the hate sooner."

Benny Polatseck, president of Colossal PR, who narrated the video, echoed Gestetner's sentiment.

"Most of the people in Rockland County are wonderful people," Polatseck said. "But sadly, some perpetuate hate. … They use Facebook. They use social media to perpetuate hate. This has been ignored by the media and by political leaders in Rockland for the longest time."

James Foley, who started the Block The Block Vote page, admitted that some remarks posted by commenters can be offensive.

"I'm more annoyed than anyone by some of the things that's been said there because it dilutes my argument and weakens my position," Foley said. "I don't agree with everything said there."

Foley said it would be impossible for him to monitor the page to pick and choose comments, adding that he's allowing Polatseck to comment on the page as well, even though he speaks harshly about Foley.

The Block The Block Facebook page is a "political effort," according to information posted on the page. It goes on to say the page is "an effort to end the current financial abuse of the Rockland county Community at large by the Orthodox and Hasidic Communities. Fairness is not anti Semitic."

Drawing a comparison with Nazi Germany didn't sit well with some Rockland leaders, including County Executive Ed Day.

"The divisive statements by some to compare the deliberate, systematic murder of millions of Jews to our way of life and free speech in Rockland County are abhorrent," Day said in an email. "Comparisons to Nazi Germany are offensive and irresponsible — hateful and outrageous rhetoric that can only divide Rockland County."

Wilbur Aldridge, Mid-Hudson/Westchester regional director for the NAACP, said although the video urged the community and political and civil rights leaders to show solidarity with the Orthodox Jewish community, the video has the opposite effect.

"I think in some instances, what they are doing is causing more division, or would cause more division than it would bring people together," Aldridge said.

Polatseck said the comparison was necessary and appropriate.

"We have to stop hate at its inception. This is what we were taught. ... I believe that the only reason why Jewish people are so free in this country is because freedom of religion and expression, and freedom of speech is allowed," Polatseck said. "But when that starts being hateful, that starts being targeted to a single community and that starts being ignored by the government, then it starts being a problem."

Andrea Winograd, executive director of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Ramapo, said the center does not condone the use of any form of propaganda and hate mongering. What the community needs would be to inspire and foster more dialogue.

"We see an increase in all types of all of hate everywhere. A rise in anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and ageism," Winograd said. "We need to infuse respect, tolerance and education back into our dialog, which is what is missing from the conversation in Rockland today. We need more tolerance, a desire to be educated and the fostering of mutual respect for each other's creeds, colors, lifestyle and religions."

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