BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | “Never again, never again,” shouted Congressmember Carolyn Maloney in the midst of a crowd of elected officials, religious leaders and Upper East Side residents on March 17.
The congressmember organized the gathering outside of the Upper East Side campus of Asphalt Green on Sunday in light of the several swastikas and slur found drawn inside the fitness center’s family locker room last week.
The crude drawings, made with a marker, were yet another reminder that acts of anti-Semitism are rising in New York City. To make matters even more somber, the gathering occurred just days after 50 Muslim worshipers were killed during a mass shooting by a white supremacist in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“We are here today to speak out, to speak out against anti-Semitism, to speak out against Islamophobia and to speak out against racism, to speak out against all hate,” Maloney declared after quoting Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran minister who was an outspoken critic of Hitler.
According to Maloney, in order to prevent large-scale acts of hate like the shootings at the Christchurch mosques and at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year, leaders must speak out against small acts of violence. If not, hatred will spread like a virus and allow another dark chapter in history like the Holocaust to repeat itself, she and others warned.
Other leaders at the rally included Reverend Al Sharpton, Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Keith Powers, state Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Dan Quart, Rabbi Arthur Schneier or Park East Synagogue, Imam Qazi Qayoom, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Kehilath Jeshurun, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher of Temple Shaaray Tefila, Charles Temel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and Rabbi Andrue Kahn of Congregation Emanu-El.
All spoke of the importance of promoting peaceful relations between the city’s multitude of ethnic groups and religions.
But while the leaders spoke of peace, some members of the public who were looking on began to boo when Sharpton approached the podium.
“Remember Crown Heights!” some of them shouted. It was reference to the deadly rioting in Brooklyn in August 1991 that saw a Jew and another man killed after a rabbi’s car fatally struck a young black boy and seriously injured another black child.
While Maloney decried anti-Semitism and touted her newly reintroduced Never Again Education Act, some slammed her response to Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments that led to the recent Anti-Semitism and Bigotry Resolution in Congress. Many have criticised the resolution — which initially was focused on stamping out anti-Semitic rhetoric — as being too lax.
In February, Omar responded to journalist Glenn Greenwald after he tweeted a comment about House G.O.P. Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening to punish Omar and another congressmember for criticizing Israel. Omar responded by tweeting, “It’s all about the Benjanmins Baby,” referencing a song by the rapper Puff Daddy.
Some took offense at Omar’s comment, believing it perpetuated a harmful stereotype about Jews.
In another tweet, Omar stated that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, funded Republican support of Israel. Omar apologized for her statements in a tweet but remained firm on her criticism of AIPAC’s lobbying.
Shortly afterward, at a bookstore in Washington, Omar made a comment that some interpreted as her stating that Jewish Americans hold dual allegiance to the U.S. and Israel. It’s a trope that has been used to justify violence against Jews for centuries.
When asked if she had any plans on how to stop anti-Semitic rhetoric in the political sphere, Maloney reiterated the message of the day: Calling out anti-Semitism at the local level and educating people about it locally will help prevent it at the national level.
In the meantime, there has been no update on the investigation into the hateful graffitit that was scrawled at Asphalt Green.