Thursday, April 02, 2015

Wieder: Jews 'frightened' but video should be removed 

Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder on Thursday expressed concern about the level of hate toward Rockland's Orthodox and Hasidic Jews on a local Facebook page, but said a video drawing parallels between that page and Nazi hate speech should be taken down from YouTube.

Wieder, D-Spring Valley, the Legislature's majority leader and its only Hasidic member, spoke publicly for the first time about the video, titled "The Jew in Rockland," which provoked criticism because of its reference to Nazi Germany.

He acknowledged some in his community said they felt unsafe although he didn't personally feel that way. But Weider said most in Rockland would stand up to anti-Semitism and called the United States "the greatest Democracy" as he held a copy of the Constitution he says he carries with him at all times.

Weider began the news conference by reading some of the comments he said found on Facebook, and said the seeds of the Holocaust were planted with "hateful and derogatory words" that went unchecked for too long. "We need to defeat hate in its infancy," he said.

Speaking about the video, Weider said he would not have used the imagery that has come under sharp criticism.

The video was produced by Colossal PR on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, taking particular aim at a Facebook page that advocates against the influence of the Orthodox bloc vote on Rockland politics and government. Since it was posted on YouTube on March 22, it had 23,799 views as of Thursday morning.

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. The video showed harsh Facebook comments against those communities, including ones mocking their lack of hygiene.

James Foley, who started the Facebook page, "Block The Block Vote," admitted that some remarks posted by commenters can be offensive. He since updated his page to emphasize that it's a "political effort" against "bloc voting," which he believes gives certain groups "undue political influence in Rockland County politics," including the East Ramapo school district. The district's Board of Education is dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish members who send their children to private schools.

Comparing the ongoing tension in Rockland to the anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany was criticized by some community leaders, including some Jewish organizations.

Rabbis Paula Mack Drill and Craig Scheff of the Orangetown Jewish Center wrote a letter to congregants stating that "equating the organized, government-sponsored anti-Semitism of the Holocaust era to individuals' inappropriate use of social media is an alarmist and inappropriate comparison to make."

Andrea Winograd, executive director of the Holocaust Museum in Suffern, issued a statement that said the memory of the Holocaust's victims "forces us to infuse respect, tolerance and eduction back into our dialog which is what is missing from the conversation in Rockand today."

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