State Watch

New York Jewish congregations sue Cuomo over COVID-19 rules, alleging discrimination

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Multiple Jewish congregations are suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the state of New York, claiming that steps Cuomo has taken to subdue the coronavirus in the Empire State are “blatantly anti-Semitic.”

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court late Wednesday by rabbis from the congregations of Netzach Yisroel, Yesheos Yakov and Oholei Shem D’Nitra.

Cuomo recently ordered gatherings in places of worship to be limited to 25 percent capacity, or a maximum of 10 people, in areas identified as COVID-19 clusters. The move drew outcry from both Jewish and Roman Catholic community leaders.

The lawsuit asserts that Cuomo’s order was “blatantly anti-Semitic, creating religious-observance based color coded ‘hot-spot’ zones directed towards particular Jewish communities,” The Associated Press reported.

In the lawsuit, the rabbis accuse Cuomo of making discriminatory statements about the Jewish Orthodox community. The lawsuit also states that his actions were particularly painful for Jewish people who live in Monsey, N.Y., where a man invaded a Hanukkah celebration and stabbed or slashed five people in December.

The court filing claims that the governor’s actions singled out the Orthodox Jewish community, though Cuomo has denied such accusations, saying red zones were determined by addresses of residences with higher rates of positive COVID-19 tests. He also pointed out that places of worship have been given more leeway than nonessential businesses that have not been allowed to remain open.

In a statement to The Hill on Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the governor reiterated these sentiments and highlighted comments that Cuomo made at a press conference earlier in the day. 

“We focus our compliance enforcement efforts on geographic clusters that are generating hospitalizations. We can map where the cases come from, so somebody goes into a hospital and their address is 110 Adams Street in Brooklyn, and then we put a dot on 110 Adam street in Brooklyn … if that is in a cluster, we put a circle around that and we say we’re focusing on Adams Street. That may turn out to be a bar; it may turn out to be a restaurant; may turn out to be a summer camp; it may turn out to be a church; It may turn out to be a synagogue,” the governor said.

“Whatever it is, if it’s in the State of New York it is subject to the Public Health Law and that’s how we do it. … But it has nothing to do with what the religion is or what the party is, it is just purely a function of where the cases are.”

Protests from the Orthodox Jewish community have risen in response to these actions. On Monday, Harold “Heshy” Tischler, an Orthodox Jewish activist, was arrested on charges related to inciting a riot and the assault of a journalist during a protest of Cuomo’s safety measure.

Conversely, the New York Jewish Agenda, a network of mainstream liberal Jewish leaders, has called for cooperation with Cuomo’s actions.

“Asking all of us to wear masks, to observe social distancing and avoid large congregate gatherings is not an anti-Semitic act on the part of our city and country in the attempt to save lives,” co-founder Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum said.

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has also filed a lawsuit against Cuomo in response to his COVID-19 crackdown.

Updated 6:09 p.m. 

Tags Andrew Cuomo Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Manhattan New York Orthodox Judaism

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