U.S. Attorney General William Barr met with members of the Jewish community in Brooklyn on Tuesday morning and vowed that the Justice Department would do all it can to combat the recent surge in anti-Semitism nationwide.
Speaking at the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, Barr acknowledged the rash of anti-Semitic crimes across the New York City metropolitan area in recent months — from assaults on Orthodox Jewish people in Brooklyn, to the Hanukkah stabbing at a rabbi’s home in upstate Monsey, to the Jersey City shootout at a Kosher supermarket. He was flanked by US Attorney Richard Donoghue of the Eastern District who also vowed to seek out those who would commit violent hate crimes.
Barr told leaders that the Justice Department is working with the FBI to pursue suspects responsible for anti-Semitic incidents locally and nationally, and bring them to justice. He noted that the federal government is pressing charges in one anti-Semitic hate crime in Brooklyn in which a woman — identified as Tiffany Harris, 30 — allegedly slapped three men of Orthodox Jewish faith on Dec. 27, 2020.
In addition, Barr said, the Justice Department is pursuing actions against all types of discrimination in housing, schools and the workplace.
“It’s appropriate, after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, to really commit this department to having zero tolerance for these kinds of violence,” Barr said. “It strikes at the very core of this country, and it is very pernicious because it effects not just ethnic practices, but also religious practices.”
Barr was warmly received by the gathering of religious Jewish leaders from throughout the borough, most welcoming his overtures. The meeting was more than 90 minutes, with rabbis from Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg expressing their concerns that violent anti-Semitism must be dealt with harshly.
Barr told the gathering he was sending out directives immediately that would require U.S. Attorney offices to “initiate or reinvigorate their relationships with the Jewish communities in their districts and to provide a point of contact for reporting anti-Semitic crimes and establish protocols for keeping in touch with contacts on these matters and whether these matters should be addressed federally or let the states handle it and then keep tabs to see if the matters are being handled effectively.”
He added that the FBI will also be looped in on these incidents to use their law enforcement and investigative capabilities to seek out hate crime suspects.
The attorney general said one of the first steps will be to create federal “intake” of complaints and to lower the level of tolerance of Jewish communities. While people still have a First Amendment right to their views, he said, incitements of violence and other threats do not fall under free speech.
Avi Greenstein, CEO of BBJCC, called the meeting “historic” and he was impressed that the Attorney General made this a “priority to get involved in regards to hate crimes perpetrated on the community.”
“He spoke of steps he plans to take action – he has a big interest and his eyes are wide open with a zero tolerance for these crimes,” Greenstein said. “We expect there will be followup and the AG is taking a close look at what is going on an we have a positive feeling that good things will come out of this.”
Greenstein said the community has received strong support from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, Governor Andrew Cuomo and now the federal government. He called it a “strong collaborative feeling of deep interest and great concern in working together not only reactive, but also proactive levels.”
“There needs to be combo efforts from government, but also from the BPJCC has an important role,” Greenstein said. “We will be working closely with other communities, some areas where the crime is coming from. A lot of steps need to be taken and while the mayor has been a great partner and we are close with Cuomo, the DOJ has a place in this and we are grateful to AG Barr for taking this seriously.”