Friday, June 19, 2015
A group representing part of Kiryas Joel's population waded into the heated debate over the potential expansion of the village on Thursday by publicly denouncing the charges of anti-Semitism that have been leveled against opponents and calling for greater tolerance of conflicting viewpoints.
The Kiryas Joel Alliance delivered that message in a striking, full-page ad in the Times Herald-Record, one that condemned the anti-Semitism accusations and defended several politicians involved in the debate without taking a position on the merits of two pending annexation petitions. The ad called the bigotry claims "baseless and untrue," and warned that they "only encourage those on the fringe to further their hate."
"Our neighbors have a right to voice their opinion regarding the annexation without the fear of being stigmatized as anti-Semitic," the ad read. "The proposed annexation will inevitably have an effect on their lives just as it will on those of us who reside in the Village of Kiryas Joel."
The Alliance represents a minority faction in the divided Satmar Hasidic community and opposes its government leaders. Two Alliance leaders, Lipa Deutsch and David Falkowitz, said in a phone interview on Thursday that they placed the ad in response to allegations of anti-Orthodox bigotry voiced last week at a public hearing in Kiryas Joel on the proposed annexations. Though they criticized the village's handling of the annexation process, they insisted their public statement was a sincere call for civility and not a political gesture.
"Peace with neighbors is a very big thing for us," Deutsch said.
Falkowitz said: "Everybody's entitled to their opinion, even if I disagree."
Their ad also featured the names and photos of four elected officials - Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, assemblymen James Skoufis and Karl Brabenec and state Sen. William Larkin Jr. - and rejected accusations of anti-Semitism against "our political leaders," arguing that the Torah commands "respect and support" for them. Deutsch and Falkowitz cautioned that their statement should not be mistaken for campaign endorsements.
Neuhaus, in a written response, said Thursday: "The proposed annexation is not in the best interests of Orange County and will have a net negative financial impact on the County, according to our independent consultants. Whatever factional differences exist within Kiryas Joel as outlined in the advertisement, the fact remains." He added that the county will submit and publicly release more extensive comments on Monday on Kiryas Joel's environmental review for the annexation proposals.
Skoufis responded: "The overwhelming majority of residents in Orange County realize that there are serious and legitimate concerns with the current annexation process. These residents transcend all municipalities, and we appreciate all the support we've been receiving."
Emily Convers, chairwoman of the United Monroe citizens group, applauded the Alliance's newspaper ad for "turning the conversation back to the topic at hand," the potential impact of expanding Kiryas Joel.
"We're glad that so many citizens of Kiryas Joel are shocked by the rhetoric and hate-baiting that went on at the public hearing," she said.
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