Cuomo calls attack on New York Hanukkah celebration 'an act of domestic terrorism'

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is labeling the attack on a Hanukkah celebration at the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, N.Y., "an act of domestic terrorism."

"Let’s call it what it is. These people are domestic terrorists," Cuomo told reporters on Sunday after visiting the house where five people were stabbed and wounded amid Hanukkah festivities. "And the law should reflect that. And they should be punished as if it was an act of terrorism."

An alleged assailant covering his face with a scarf entered the home of a Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey late Saturday night and stabbed several people. The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council (OJPAC) for the Hudson Valley region said on Twitter that all of the victims were Hasidic Jews and that they were transported to local hospitals for their injuries. 

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Two of the victims arrived at the hospital in critical condition, the group said. One of the victims is the rabbi's son, OJPAC founder Yossi Gestetner told reporters. 

The Ramapo Police Department said in a statement early Sunday that the suspect had been arrested. He was reportedly detained after attempting to enter a synagogue next door and then fleeing the scene. Witnesses said that people inside the Congregation Netzach Yisroel locked the doors to the synagogue after hearing screams at Rottenberg's home, The New York Times reported

Monsey is a town in New York with a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. 

Cuomo said Saturday he was directing the state police's hate crime task force to investigate the attack. He added a day later that the incident was a product of an "intolerant time" in the U.S. 

"We see anger. We see hatred exploding. It is American cancer in the body politic," he said, adding that there have been more than 10 suspected anti-Semitic incidents in New York in just the past few weeks. 

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"It is intolerant. It is ignorant. But it is also illegal. At the end of the day, it is not just about words but actions. It is violence spurred by hate. It is mass violence, and I consider this an act of domestic terrorism," he said.

A spike in anti-Semitic incidents in New York amid Hanukkah festivities has led to rising fears about the Jewish community's safety. New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioOn The Money: Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' | Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag De Blasio urges NYC businesses to require coronavirus vaccines Plummeting test scores are a symptom; remote instruction is the disease MORE (D) last week announced that police would increase their presence in Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Jewish populations after multiple attacks during Hanukkah.

"We cannot overstate the fear people are feeling right now," he said in a tweet late Saturday. "I’ve spoken to longtime friends who, for the first time in their lives, are fearful to show outward signs of their Jewish faith."

In the wake of the latest incident, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called for greater protection. 

"After the hateful assaults we saw this past week in Brooklyn and Manhattan, it is heart-wrenching to see the holiday of Hanukkah violated yet again," he said in a statement. "We are outraged because the answer is clear: the Jewish community NEEDS greater protection."